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Children of Drug Abusers

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 5:18 pm on 16th September 2004.

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Photo of Ms Rosemary Byrne Ms Rosemary Byrne SSP 5:18 pm, 16th September 2004

I, too, congratulate Trish Godman, as today's debate is welcome. All of those present in the chamber are well aware of the serious nature of this problem and of its importance for the protection of children.

I will not go over the statistics that other members have cited. In fact, I would like to begin by being a little anecdotal, if members do not mind. For me, the debate is timely, because last week I heard that a young mother in the community from which I come, whose children I taught at one time, had just had her life support machine switched off. She was suffering from septicaemia as a result of serious drug abuse. She leaves about five children, whose grandmother has been caring for them for a considerable time. That is just another sad reflection of the situation that exists. I am sure that similar things are happening regularly in communities throughout Scotland.

In my community of Irvine, there is a group called Mothers Against Drugs, which for four years has been campaigning to have a community-based rehab facility based in our town. Drug abuse is the scourge of our town. A group of young people is going around breaking windows, smashing up the community and causing violence. They are between the ages of 14 and 20 and they are mainly the children of drug abusers. Their way of fighting back is to go into the community and create havoc.

The young people's problem is not being picked up, so I described the scale of the issue and gave the other side of the situation. Teachers expect the young people, whose self-esteem is non-existent and who come from chaotic homes, to do their homework, but they do not have the ability to concentrate, let alone to do their homework. They suffer from bullying, and have the label "children of junkies" thrown at them all the time.

Last year, I met a support group in Stranraer called You Are Not Alone. It was made up mainly of grandparents who care for their grandchildren because of the children's parents' drug abuse. The grandparents told me of the stigma that the children suffered in school. As if that were not bad enough, the grandparents also had a problem with financial support for kinship care and appropriate support from social services. As we all know—it has been said before by me and others—there is no joined-up strategy for supporting grandparents, but that is another issue.

So many issues are involved, but the best way to protect the children of drug abusers is to treat the parents. We have to have in place strategies to ensure that babies and children in school are monitored closely and that services pull together to do that. Such strategies are important and I welcome them, but we also need to focus our minds on finding community-based support and decent rehab.

A young woman down in Irvine was refused entry to the methadone programme because she did not meet the criteria—she was not pregnant or coming out of prison, she did not have a child on a child protection register and she did not have mental health problems. She is now in a dreadful state and her mother has custody of her child. Although the child is being looked after, how much better would it have been had we been able to get her on to a programme to deal with her problems?

Let us address the need to protect children, which is paramount, but let us also focus on joined-up, community-based rehab facilities that give long-term benefit to children. The workers and the programmes exist; all they need is to be joined together. Let us move forward with the will to do that.