Drugs and Hidden Harm

– in the Scottish Parliament at 2:15 pm on 11 May 2006.

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Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 2:15, 11 May 2006

The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-4370, in the name of Cathy Jamieson, on drugs and hidden harm.

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour 2:56, 11 May 2006

Every child has the right to be protected from harm, to have the best possible start in life, to live free from poverty and disadvantage, to be safe, nurtured and healthy and to have a happy and fulfilling life.

Since devolution, we have made good progress for children in Scotland. We have delivered on our promises by lifting more than 130,000 children out of poverty. More families are in work and almost all four-year-olds are in early years education. We have also made our streets safer by tackling antisocial behaviour and providing better facilities for children and young people.

We are proud of our achievements in government, but we are not complacent. As we progress and improve the well-being of more children, the most vulnerable children will be harder to reach and will have more complex problems that require more intensive solutions. That should make us more determined to reach them. I know that thousands of children in Scotland remain vulnerable. They are excluded from the opportunities that others take for granted. They include children in families who have been out of work for generations, children in families who are involved in crime and children who live with domestic abuse. All those children need our support and we should continue our work to reach every child we can.

Children who live in substance-misusing families are among the most vulnerable in our communities. The words "hidden harm" vividly describe their lives. Too often, they suffer in silence. They are not known to our public services and they do not know who to turn to for help. Too often, they suffer the devastating and long-lasting effects of poor parenting.

Some such children show remarkable resilience: they care for their mum or dad who is addicted to drugs or alcohol and they somehow keep up with their schoolwork when they never know what will confront them when they go home and open the front door. They go on to achieve stable and fulfilling lives, but it is not always like that: many suffer a life of underachievement and serious social and health problems. It is a chilling fact that they are seven times more likely to become drug users.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

Will the minister confirm that the Executive's proposals are not about removing children from families but about providing caring support for young carers, which must be resourced?

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour

The point about young carers is important and is reflected in "Hidden Harm—Next Steps: Supporting Children—Working with Parents", which we published on Monday. I will highlight what that document outlines and what we will do to improve how we identify, protect and support children who live in the families that I have described.

A clear programme of action is to be achieved by 2007. I will describe a few of the key actions. Legislation will be introduced to create a duty to share information to protect children. We will improve contraception and family planning services for substance misusers. Maternity services, addiction services and services for children and families will work together better. Legislation will be introduced to place a duty on all agencies to identify and act on the needs of all children for whom they have responsibility, which will implement "Getting it right for every child—Proposals for action".

Other key actions include establishing incentives for general practitioners and their practices so that young carers—this responds to the important point that Fiona Hyslop raised—will be put in contact with local support services and support agencies; and expanding the Scottish drug misuse database to ensure that information on dependent children of drug-using parents is not only collected but used to inform policy and practice.

We know that we have more to do and we know that we must do it better. If anything or anyone is standing in the way of supporting these vulnerable children, we have to challenge them. That is the message not just from me as a politician but from the children, their families and the front-line professionals. As I worked at the front line for many years, I know that taking children away from parents is a difficult decision. It is not to be taken lightly and should never be a knee-jerk reaction.

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour

I will just finish this point.

When the First Minister and I visited Brenda House in Susan Deacon's constituency earlier this week, we spoke to mothers who have had serious drug problems. They gave us the clear message that, although losing their children for a period was a cause of heartache and anger at the time, now that they are clean and free from drugs they can say with the benefit of hindsight that it was the right decision in the circumstances. Looking back, they know that they were not in a fit state to look after their children, but with the right kind of support they are starting to live drug-free lives and learning to be good parents again.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

The minister said that "Hidden Harm" contains a clear programme for action and that she will not let anyone stand in the way of the action points in it. In section 5.2, the third key action point for children in need of care is:

"ensure that Chief Officers of local authorities, NHS Boards and Chief Constables respond to Ministerial requests for assurances that ...".

Are chief officers of national health service boards and chief constables not doing their job? What does that action point mean? It does not sound like much of an objective to me.

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour

That objective is clearly about being on the case, looking again at what is happening at local level and continuing to work with chief officers in every agency to ensure that they do all that they can to ensure that their staff work to respond to situations. We have written to chief officers on various occasions, but I will not let up on the message—children's lives depend on it.

I have listened to strong messages from children who desperately want their parents to come off drugs, but I know that there are children who have still not spoken out or who have not been listened to. Some children hide their problems, struggle in silence at home and say nothing at school. As some professionals and users of services have confirmed to me, too often the drugs services that are available place the adult client at the centre and do not recognise the impact of the adult's drug taking on his or her children.

Photo of Ms Rosemary Byrne Ms Rosemary Byrne SSP

Is the minister aware that, in many areas across the country, services are woefully inadequate and mothers have no access to them? She need only read the briefings that we have received to see the findings of the Association of Directors of Social Work and Children 1 st . I could tell the minister what I am finding in my case load, if she would take the time to speak to me about the issue.

Photo of Ms Rosemary Byrne Ms Rosemary Byrne SSP

If our aim is to protect children, we need to treat the mothers as well.

Photo of Ms Rosemary Byrne Ms Rosemary Byrne SSP

Does the minister agree that we need to ensure that those services are available?

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour

I welcome Rosemary Byrne's intervention in the sense that I know that she takes the issue seriously, but she will also know that I have spoken to her. I will continue to work with any member who wants to take the issue forward.

One point that I want to make about one of the organisations that provide services is that I have a concern that the available services should be used to capacity, but I am not sure that that always happens.

The Aberlour Child Care Trust's think tank report was put together by a wide range of professionals. It states clearly that drugs services must take decisions

"based on the impact ... on the child, measured against timescales that are appropriate for the child, not for the adults."

I agree absolutely with that. With the right support for parents and children, it will often be possible for families to remain together, and I saw the benefits of that when I visited the Aberlour Child Care Trust's project—a project, I have to say, that workers tell me is not always used to full capacity.

Serious and chaotic drug taking is just not compatible with good parenting. That does not mean that all drug users are bad parents or bad people and that they must have their children removed, nor does it mean that drug users cannot be helped to change. Effective treatment for parents is one of the main ways in which we can help their children, and the women whom I met earlier this week demonstrate that. However, we must face the stark reality that there are some circumstances in which parents' drug taking is so serious and so chaotic that the children are at an unacceptable risk. We know that if children are living in families where drug addiction is so powerful that getting the next hit transcends the most basic parental responsibilities of nurture, care and protection, they can suffer irreparable damage.

Sometimes, nobody is able to pick up the pieces afterwards, so every agency has a responsibility to put the needs of children first, identify the children at risk and give them the support they need. From maternity units right through to GPs, nurses, nursery and school teachers and the police, everybody has a vital part to play, and they need to be clearer about what is expected of the substance-misusing parents when decisions are taken that their children can remain with them.

Drug users with children need to undergo an integrated multiagency assessment. That might sound like jargon, so I shall explain it quite clearly. It means that every agency has a responsibility to look at what it can do to contribute to a child being safe. That might involve contracts between parents and the agencies involved. If part of the contract is that the parent has to stay clean or free from drugs, we need to know that they are clean, and that is one of the reasons why we must also give serious consideration to drug testing.

At times, we need to have a clearer, more honest and more challenging approach to parents with drug problems, and we must also support the staff who do that difficult work on our behalf. I could go on at length about training for social workers and others who work in child protection, but I shall resist the temptation to do so now. Fostering is also an important issue—one that I am sure will be drawn out in the debate, as will the issue of support from members of the extended family.

When decisions are taken to remove children, they are not always removed permanently. Sometimes, a child needs temporary protection during a period of crisis. We need to look more innovatively at different types of support, such as respite and day care facilities.

The agenda is challenging—I do not underestimate the task before us. Everybody must be clear about their duties and responsibilities to young people at risk. We will support local agencies to do that. We are bringing into the Executive a team of people with front-line experience in a range of areas whose job will be to work directly with the agencies to help them raise their game quickly and effectively. We must also be honest enough to say loudly and clearly to drug-misusing parents, "For your children's sake we've got to act, and for your children's sake you too must act." I hope that all parties will support the direction that we are taking. A lot of detailed discussion needs to take place and I hope that members will engage in that discussion in the constructive way in which we have usually dealt with this issue. That is the direction that we must take if we are to do the best that we can for Scotland's most vulnerable children.

I move,

That the Parliament welcomes the publication by the Scottish Executive of Hidden Harm - Next Steps: Supporting Children - Working With Parents; acknowledges the wide range of work currently being undertaken to protect and support children living in substance-misusing families; recognises the serious risks and problems faced by many children in drug-abusing households and the incompatibility of serious and chaotic drug use with effective parenting; acknowledges the important role of the extended family in helping to safeguard and nurture children who have been affected by substance misuse, and supports the Executive's commitment to further improvements in the way that agencies protect and support children in these circumstances.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Before I call the next speaker, I remind members that the debate is as tight as the proverbial drum. I intend to call everyone who gave prior notice that they wished to take part, but I advise those who will speak in the open debate that they will have five minutes to speak rather than the usual six. In that way, I hope to be able to balance the debate appropriately among the parties. I call Fiona Hyslop to speak to and move amendment S2M-4370.2.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party 3:09, 11 May 2006

The update report, "Hidden Harm—Next Steps: Supporting Children—Working with Parents", which was published this week, makes the point that child protection should be a main objective of drugs policy and practice. As 50,000 children live in a drug-misusing family and one in 50 babies born in Scotland are born to drug-misusing parents, no one should underestimate the scale of the problem. Neither should we fail to appreciate the complexity of the issue.

Perhaps because drugs are illegal, too many people see the drugs issue first and the child second. I make it clear that the SNP views the issue as a child protection issue. The fact that drugs are the cause of the chaotic family life of the young people concerned should be a secondary consideration.

The original Executive response to the initial "Hidden Harm" report also addressed children who are harmed because of alcohol abuse. An estimated 100,000 children in Scotland are in that position.

Drug abuse brings with it particular issues. For example, it means that the Executive has to provide more support for outreach to connect with hard-to-reach families. Early intervention is required if the abuse is to be reported. It is important that parents do not have to ask sheriffs for a disposal to get rehabilitation in prison. This is as much about early intervention as it is about crisis management. I have concerns that some of the focus is on crisis management.

I do not doubt the concern and commitment of those involved, whether they be ministers, social workers, police or health professionals, but I am becoming increasingly frustrated and angry about the Executive's slow and cumbersome progress on delivering the reams of recommendations that are made in myriad reports.

Patience with the Executive is running out. The problem is that slow action means that too many children are losing out on a childhood of care and nurture. There have been a series of delays and—as recently as this week—mistakes by the Executive, which have hampered progress on child protection reform.

The Executive has failed to get its collective act together, as it was urged to do by the First Minister himself in 2002.

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour

Can the member outline specifically which actions have not been taken?

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

Certainly. One is the failure to deliver recommendation 17 of the 2002 report. It stated that by 2005 there should be a linked, computer-based information system that would include a single integrated assessment—which the minister called for—that would allow a planning and review framework for children in need.

Only this week, West Lothian Council produced its own information system, called C-me. It is meant to share information, but the important point is that there was meant to be a national system. As the minister knows, the problem is that because many vulnerable children are moved around the country, localised systems will not be enough.

The Executive established the social work inspection agency but failed to legislate to give it powers to inspect. Last minute fast-track legislation had to be introduced to allow it to go and inspect without invitation. Remember that it could conduct an inquiry into the Western Isles child protection case only at the council's invitation.

Vital joint inspections of children's services were held up by six months and started again only this week because the Executive failed to legislate properly, even though Wendy Alexander and I questioned the Executive on the issue as far back as 2004.

Yesterday, the Executive completed a piece of legislation to replace school boards with new parent councils. That is hardly the most important need for children in Scotland, given that the introduction of the much needed adoption and fostering bill was pushed back in the queue. That bill, the Adoption and Children (Scotland) Bill, does not mention the role of extended families.

Only yesterday, Children 1st urged the Parliament to amend the bill to require adoption agencies to consider alternative arrangements with the extended family before a child can be placed for adoption. In New Zealand, 75 per cent of children live in kinship care, but only 12 per cent of children in the UK are in kinship care. Kinship care will be vital in relation to the drugs issue. Children 1st also proposes family group conferencing, which the minister did not mention in her statement. Such conferencing will play a vital part in resolving how to cope in a drugs-misusing family.

There is also no sign of the children's hearings system legislation. That will also have an impact. I doubt whether that legislation will be introduced during this session of Parliament. Following Bichard, the Executive has promised more child protection legislation, but time is running out.

On Monday, the minister visited Brenda House in Niddrie in Edinburgh, which specifically provides rehabilitation for mothers with children. I visited the same Brenda House with the Social Justice Committee of the Parliament as part of its drugs inquiry five years ago. The recommendation made then to the Executive was that many women do not present themselves for help with addiction because they are frightened that their children will be taken away. That is an important consideration in the light of the shift in practice that the Executive proposes. The Parliament told the Executive five years ago that children who live in drug misusing families need support.

Councils are spending up to 50 per cent over their grant aided expenditure on children's services, mostly for child protection. The City of Edinburgh Council has reported that it is short of administrative workers to type up case notes and that it might not be able to comply fully with Government child protection measures. The minister may look glum, but she should remember the cases of Caleb Ness and Michael McGarrity, in which problems arose because of a lack of information sharing. Typing up case notes is part of that.

We found out this month that 109 clients in Edinburgh have waited more than 52 weeks for assessment for their addiction. The Association of Directors of Social Work say that across Scotland some key services operate with a vacancy level of 40 per cent. So forgive me for not being completely consensual on the issue.

It is essential to ensure that progress is made, but it might have been more appropriate to take first steps before "next steps". The minister will know that taking children away from their families is a serious matter indeed. The public sector is not necessarily the best carer for such children, as the minister has highlighted. There is so much to do in this area, but everybody must face up to their responsibilities.

The SNP will offer its support to deliver improvements, but we will not do so uncritically. Experience on this issue shows that the Executive often needs to be closely scrutinised to ensure that momentum is not lost.

I move amendment S2M-4370.2, to leave out from first "acknowledges" to end and insert:

"notes that in 2002 the current First Minister, formerly minister with responsibility for children, said that the Executive and relevant agencies had three years to get their collective act together on child protection; recognises that child protection issues generally, including the increasing number of cases where drugs misuse is a factor, are complex and need thought-through policy solutions and concerted action for delivery, and calls on the Executive to redouble its efforts to complete implementation of the child protection recommendations contained in the 2002 report, It's everyone's job to make sure I'm alright, which it committed to fulfil but which are still outstanding, and to ensure that it adopts a comprehensive policy approach to proposed legislation for child protection, adoption and fostering and children's hearings which puts the child at centre stage and which addresses support for kinship care, listens to children and to professionals in the field and also addresses support services where current spend on children's services by local authorities on average far exceeds GAE allocation to a disproportionate extent."

Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative 3:16, 11 May 2006

I welcome today's debate as an opportunity for the Parliament to address another side of drug abuse. In a number of debates in the chamber, we have discussed the damage that drug abuse causes in Scotland and what we can do to help an addict try to achieve a stable and drug-free lifestyle.

As members know, however, it is never simply the addict who suffers through drug abuse; some of the more heartbreaking stories that have been reported recently involved children of drug addicts. Fiona Hyslop mentioned Michael McGarrity. We also have Derek Doran and, of course, the tragedy of the 11-year-old girl in Glasgow. Those stories illustrate the impact that drug-abusing parents can have on children. That is why my colleagues and I welcome the Executive's "Hidden Harm" report, which was published on Monday.

I whole-heartedly agree with the minister that the protection of children must always be top priority in such cases. However, I have some concerns. The Executive still cannot tell me how many individual rehabilitation places are available across Scotland. As we heard on Monday, there is a shortage of foster carers for children who must be removed from their parents. I am worried that the Executive's glossy document will turn out to be another bitter disappointment.

In 2003, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs published the original "Hidden Harm" report, in which it was estimated that between 41,000 and 59,000 children in Scotland have a drug-using parent, and between 10,000 and 19,000 children live with a drug-using parent. Vitally, one of the key findings of that report was that the number of children who are affected is likely to decrease only when the number of problem drug users decreases. I agree with that finding and it is why I am disappointed that the Executive's report does not put more emphasis on preventive measures.

I cannot understand why drug treatment and testing orders are available only to offenders who have built up a catalogue of offences, whereas individuals who have committed their first offence because of their drug addiction are denied any intervention. My party and I have continually argued that such interventions should be available in district courts and in children's panels so that individuals can be helped and diverted from the path to crime. It seems absurd that, to get help, someone must become a serial offender. I know that that was not the principle that drove the concept of drugs courts, with which my party is content—we approve of that principle—but consequences are emerging that it would be foolhardy to disregard.

I am also worried about what will happen to the parents of any children who are taken into care. If the Executive does not have comprehensive information about what rehabilitation is available, what hope does an addict have? There is a danger that parents could try desperately to seek help to stabilise their lives and get their children back, but be unable to access the help they need. Even for accessing methadone, at the end of the quarter to September 2005, 130 people across Scotland had waited more than a year to get prescribed drug treatment.

I concede that none of us has all the answers, but is the Executive looking at practices and treatments elsewhere? Is it investigating what other countries are doing or what may be available within the United Kingdom? What about neuro-electric therapy, which was pioneered by a Scottish doctor? Is it available and could it work? Is the Executive prepared to look at that?

I think we all agree that prioritising the very worst parents for help so that they get their children back but giving the parents who are deemed to be not so bad no help at all would be unacceptable. If we intend to use the ultimate sanction of removing children from their parents and expect it to work as an incentive and as a deterrent, we will have to ensure that parents can get help with addressing their addiction.

I return to the basic principle that the advisory council highlighted in 2003: if we are to help to protect children of drug abusers, we will need to reduce the occurrence of drug abuse. Indeed, I agree with and applaud the Executive on three of the key priorities in "Hidden Harm": to

"increase the number of problematic drug users getting timely and effective treatment; reduce reoffending" by endeavouring to assist and

"reduce the availability of drugs".

That has to be our goal and I believe that it can be done. More preventive measures need to be taken to stop people getting into the hellish environment of addiction in the first place. That is why I propose the addition of a couple of lines to the motion.

I move amendment S2M-4370.1, to insert at end:

"but believes that progress will be impeded unless there is an increase in the availability of rehabilitation for those addicted parents, as well as a greater emphasis on educational and preventative measures to stop people getting involved with drugs in the first place."

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent 3:21, 11 May 2006

I note what you said about the shortage of time, Presiding Officer.

I lodged and will move my amendment, but not to deny the good intentions of the Executive's motion. In the section of "Hidden Harm" on the strategy for tackling drugs, the Executive says:

"There is no single treatment option that works better than others."

I could not agree more and my amendment supports that approach. Indeed, our experience over the past 25 years of having roughly the same mix of policies for dealing with substance abuse has taught us that. We have also learned that the mix of measures falls far short of achieving the objective that is identified in the report of people having

"wherever possible ... a drug-free life."

A week or two ago, the minister spoke about the small reduction in the number of heroin abusers. I doubt whether that can be identified as a trend, however. Even if the decrease is not reversed, I think it is accepted that other drugs have filled the gap. The overall picture is that we continue to have a huge drug-abuse problem.

As we have heard, tens of thousands of children live with parents who abuse substances. In, "Hidden Harm", the Executive says:

"Across Scotland there are an estimated 40,000-60,000 children affected by parental drug use. An estimated 80,000-100,000 children are affected by parental alcohol misuse."

That is why I always prefer to talk of substance abuse.

By and large, we understand the use and abuse of alcohol much better than we understand the use and abuse of drugs. Although I would like integrated policies and service delivery for alcohol and drug abuse to be developed, particularly in relation to children who live with substance-abusing parents, I have concentrated on drugs in my amendment today because it is the area where we should have more evaluation of current practices and more investigation of alternatives.

Because alcohol is legal, policies are easier to change than are those that apply to illegal drugs. We neither control the market in illegal drugs nor attempt to control attitudes—or, rather, we try to do so, knowing that we cannot. I will therefore concentrate on illegal drugs for the remainder of my contribution, as the issue is more difficult to resolve.

I suggest, as I have done before, that one of the things that we must do, if we are to think seriously about how to cope with the huge number of children whose lives are blighted here and now by drugs, is to admit that we do not have the facilities, services or service delivery mechanisms that those children require.

Perhaps we can think about short circuiting. Could we return to the old system and have a pilot scheme in a suitable area to provide heroin users with legally prescribed heroin? I want such a scheme to be evaluated. No one can argue that the present system is any better than the old one of delivering measured amounts of heroin through a medical route. I wonder whether it can be proved that it is any worse for children to live with heroin-using parents when the heroin is prescribed and delivered by a doctor than it is for them to live with parents whose lives are made chaotic not only by their heroin abuse, but by what they have to do to get their heroin and by the consequences of using heroin that might be cut with heaven knows what.

Annabel Goldie has spoken movingly in the Parliament about methadone, but I still feel that we have not worked out what methadone is for. Is it a palliative or a short-term treatment? Or, if we take into account the realities to which I referred, such as the shortage of services on the ground and the lack of delivery mechanisms for services, is it really a medicine that people take to keep going when they are desperate? For some people, we should face the unfaceable. At present, we do not offer anything other than methadone, so we must consider how we can make the system just a wee bit better. I agree with Rosemary Byrne that we must intervene and get to the mothers of the children as soon as they leave hospital.

My amendment mentions kinship carers, whom we often think of as being grandparents, although sometimes they can be other members of the extended family. There are also community carers. Those people must be recompensed. It costs money to do normal activities with children, such as going to the swimming baths or taking them to sports activities. I am glad that Glasgow City Council has acknowledged that, but we do not have a national attitude or policy on recompensing kinship and community carers. I hope that members will support my amendment.

I move amendment S2M-4370.3, to leave out from "; recognises" to end and insert:

"and to that end guarantees to investigate properly alternative regimes that aim to reduce the harm done by drug abuse and stabilise the lifestyle of persistent drug abusers; acknowledges the important role of kinship carers in helping to safeguard and nurture children who have been affected by substance misuse and recognises this role by financially recompensing them to an agreed national standard, and supports the Executive's commitment to further improvements in the way that agencies protect and support children in these circumstances."

Photo of Euan Robson Euan Robson Liberal Democrat 3:27, 11 May 2006

We are all well aware of the links between drug abuse, poor health, low educational attainment and crime. If we need any reminder of the problem's cross-portfolio implications, we can find it in the ministerial foreword to "Hidden Harm—Next Steps: Supporting Children—Working With Parents", where no fewer than three ministers' faces grace the page.

The impact of substance abuse is not restricted to the individual abuser; it can be no less than devastating for their children. We should not underestimate the scale of the problem. As several members have said, 40,000 to 60,000 children throughout Scotland are affected by parental drug abuse, together with the 100,000 or so children who are affected by alcohol abuse. That means that between one in 10 and one in 15 of all Scotland's under-16s suffer from so-called hidden harm. It is worth hanging on to that truly worrying statistic. The number of babies who are born to drug-addicted mothers has risen by more than 30 per cent in less than a decade. Maternal drug taking jeopardises foetal development and maternal drug injecting carries with it the risk of transmitting viral hepatitis and HIV. Parental drug abuse is associated with poverty, frequent changes in residence, interrupted education and exposure to criminal behaviour. It can lead to emotional, cognitive, behavioural and other psychological problems and early substance misuse in children. We must remark on the resilience of the children who survive that kind of home background.

Drug abuse also causes dangerously inadequate parenting, including lack of supervision and neglect in the most serious cases. Furthermore, sadly, children who live with drug-addicted parents can sometimes access toxic substances. We know of the serious and very sad case of the toddler, Derek Doran, who died recently after drinking his parents' methadone.

The Liberal Democrats are committed to protecting our most vulnerable children. The Executive has already taken steps in that direction through, for example, the Scotland-specific response to the 2003 report, "Hidden Harm: responding to the needs of children of problem drug users" and policy documents such as, "It's everyone's job to make sure I'm alright". The publication of "Hidden Harm—Next Steps" should be welcomed as a further sign of the Executive's commitment to helping those children. I compliment the work of the working group. I look forward to seeing the updated alcohol plan, which is said to be coming soon.

I commend the emphasis in "Hidden Harm" on the role of voluntary bodies. It is vital that we co-ordinate a multi-agency approach to combating hidden harm. Vulnerable children should be identified quickly. That will be facilitated by the proposed information-sharing measures that the minister mentioned and which the report outlines. Once identified, it is crucial that such children are tracked and do not become lost in the system, which can happen at the transition from nursery to primary school, from primary school to secondary school and from secondary school to further and higher education. Children should be tracked to see what progress is being made. There needs to be early intervention, joint working by agencies, information sharing and effective outcomes.

The minister referred to the proposal to remove some vulnerable children from drug-addicted parents. Obviously it is preferable for children to remain with their family, or indeed their extended family. However, if parents are completely unable to provide a satisfactory level of care for the child, action must be taken to place the child in a safer environment. The foundations of the children's hearings system, the culture of the Scottish courts and the ethos of our education system and Scottish public policy lie in the promotion of the best interests of the child, which is why the minister was right in what she said. Placing the child in care might seem like a drastic solution, but it is a step that might need to be taken if the wider family cannot care adequately for the child.

I turn briefly to fostering. I have had some experience of the Fostering Network, in a different role. I welcome the proposed development of a new national fostering strategy. We have been able to increase markedly allowances for foster carers, whose work is of fundamental importance. Unlike Fiona Hyslop, I do not believe that there has been a delay in the Adoption and Children (Scotland) Bill, which I think is on target. She might have spent a bit more time thinking about the work that has gone into making it one of the most important bills that we will pass in this session of Parliament.

Family group conferencing is immensely important, but it is a voluntary activity that cannot be created by statute. We might say that those who are engaged should use it as a procedure or form of helping to resolve a particular circumstance and that it should be developed.

If we are able to remove the burdens on some of the children who are affected by hidden harm, we will release what might be described as the hidden talent of the nation. Members should think of the talent that has been wasted because so many people live in these circumstances.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

We come now to the open debate. I start by calling Patrick Harvie, to be followed by Rosemary Byrne. Because their parties have no opening and closing time, I will give them six minutes and other members will receive five.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green 3:34, 11 May 2006

I certainly welcome the opportunity to debate the Executive's report. I will begin by reflecting, as many members will, on the cases that we hear about and the emotive impact that they have. There cannot be a single member of any party who is unmoved by the many such cases.

We are talking about a problem that is difficult to solve. No Executive, regardless of its composition, would find that it suddenly became easy to solve. Given that much of the problem is hidden, the easy thing to do would be not to go looking for it. Although I have criticisms of some aspects of the work that is being done, we should all acknowledge that the Executive has not taken that easy option and is willing to face up to the issue.

Given the complexity and the difficult nature of the problem, I find it highly frustrating that its treatment in the media and in some aspects of public debate is often dominated by stereotypes of drug users and simplistic ideas about the kind of people they are, the types of drugs they use—alcohol is often ignored, even though it often accounts for the bulk of the problem that we are discussing—and whether their children should be taken into care. There is little recognition of what a stark option that is or of the fact that the facilities that allow that to be done are limited. Drug-using parents are often stereotyped as being uncaring and incapable people when, although their ability to be parents may be restricted, in most cases they have something to offer. The simplistic assumption is made that the high-profile, extreme scenarios are the norm. We should acknowledge that that is not the case. All those ideas, assumptions and stereotypes are deeply unhelpful.

We must consider what would be helpful. Much of what is contained in the Executive's report is helpful. It recognises that we must focus on the best interests of the children. I hope that I misheard Annabel Goldie, but I think that she suggested that children could be taken into care as an incentive or a deterrent. The extreme action of taking a child into care must be taken only to protect that child's welfare; it should not be used as an incentive or a deterrent.

"Hidden Harm—Next Steps" points out that it is not appropriate to apply the same approach on every occasion. I am most drawn to the amendment in the name of Margo MacDonald, who spoke about that. We should examine all the alternatives, including the prescription of heroin, for the reasons that Margo MacDonald outlined.

In addition, we should consider alternative approaches to the application of the criminal law as it stands. My party and the Scottish Socialist Party would like the criminal law to be used in a very different way; in that regard, we do not sign up to the consensus that exists among the majority of members. We should all aim to ensure that when people come into contact with the criminal law because of their drug using, that serves as a route to support, treatment and services rather than a route into the punitive system of prison. We should recognise the deeply damaging impact that imprisonment can have not only on the individuals concerned, but on their families. In that context, I highlight the work of the happy project in Glasgow, which works with the families and youngsters of prisoners to ensure that contact is maintained.

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour

I had a meeting with the happy project only last week.

Does the member acknowledge that on several occasions I have made statements in which I have said that we should seek to provide pathways out of drug misuse at every stage in the criminal justice system and that we should use a variety of methods to do so, including mandatory drug testing, which I hope would lead to treatment?

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

I welcome the minister's comments, but we should recognise that the fact that we are still imprisoning people who have addiction issues can only help to fuel the idea that what they require is judgment and condemnation, when we should be focused on support and care.

As the report mentions, it is crucial that we get beyond the idea that all we need to do is to decide whether a child needs to be taken into care. We must acknowledge that when we consider the welfare of a child whom we are concerned about, we should take account of all the resources that are available. As well as those that are available through the state, we should remember those that are available through the child's community, their extended family and their parents, even if those parents are misusing drugs.

Before I finish, I want to make two quick points. I know that Susan Deacon will talk about issues that go beyond the interventions of hospitals and antenatal classes and so on, and will talk about fertility issues and about encouraging addicts to take control of their fertility. I would like to associate myself with what I think she is likely to say. I look forward to her speech.

Finally, at the front of the "Hidden Harm" report are the pictures of three ministers, but of those three only the Minister for Justice is here today for the debate. That is slightly regrettable.

Photo of Ms Rosemary Byrne Ms Rosemary Byrne SSP 3:40, 11 May 2006

I welcome this debate and the further commitment to protecting children. However, the issues surrounding drug addiction and child safety are complex. It is important that we treat parental drug addictions while ensuring that children are protected and have their needs met. We do not need knee-jerk reactions of the kind that lead to children being taken into care; and we certainly do not need knee-jerk reactions to one or two incidents that—although serious, frightening and extremely worrying—represent only a minority of cases. We must consider the whole picture and not just part of it.

Negative stereotyping of drug-using parents is counterproductive to the treatment of drug users and, consequently, to the safety of children. Mothers will not access services if they feel threatened. If mothers feel that their children will be taken away from them, they will not go near services—and those children will be the ones who suffer the most. Therefore, we must be careful that as we try to improve the lot of children, we do not make things worse.

The ministerial foreword to the report says:

"We recognise that parents with substance misuse problems need help. The Scottish Executive has increased the availability and range of treatment and rehabilitation across Scotland. But our priority, and the priority of every local agency, must be to protect and safeguard children."

I believe strongly that we indeed need to protect and safeguard children. Anyone who knows me and knows the work that I have done will acknowledge that. However, I must ask again: if we do not treat the parents, how can we protect the children? I take issue with the statement in the foreword because we have so many waiting lists and so many people who are not accessing services. Yes, more money has been put in, but the services are not integrated. I welcome the aim to integrate those services but we are a long way from achieving that.

In a briefing, the Association of Directors of Social Work states:

"The effective treatment of the parent can have major benefits for the child. At present, insufficient help is given to help parents who have a substance abuse problem. There are waiting lists for methadone prescribing and insufficient alternatives to methadone."

I agreed whole-heartedly with Margo MacDonald when she said that we need a pilot on methadone. We need pilots on other substances as well.

The ADSW briefing continues:

"Sheriffs tell us that offenders are asking to go to prison as they know that they will be able to access health services for their addiction problems there. ADSW contend that by not providing sufficient rehabilitation services to help people stop their misuse, we are not just failing drug users, we are failing their children."

I could also read members a quote from Children 1st. In its experience, treatment is not always readily available when parents want to get help. I feel that we are missing the boat on many occasions.

I received an email after the last—

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour

I am sorry to interrupt, because I am sure that Rosemary was about to describe a particular case. Before she does so, I wondered whether she would accept that there are some people who, despite all the help, all the support and all the treatment facilities that are made available, do not take them up. Sometimes, in the best interests of the child, it is the responsibility of the local authority to act and to ensure that the child is safeguarded.

Photo of Ms Rosemary Byrne Ms Rosemary Byrne SSP

Yes, Cathy. Anyone who comes to access services should have an assessment that results in a care plan, so that the needs of the family, as well as the needs of the addict, are taken into consideration. To me, that would be one of the best ways of protecting children. Yes, there will be extreme cases in which people have their children taken away from them, but I do not want that to happen whenever people have not had access to the right kind of treatment. We must offer a range of treatments, and that range of services is not available throughout the country, which is why I differ from the Executive on the matter.

A young woman from Campbeltown e-mailed me a few weeks ago, after the Scottish Socialist Party debate on drugs. She said that she was a heroin addict who had been prescribed coproxamol—Jean Turner will tell me if I pronounced that incorrectly—but she had been told that the drug was no longer available in her area. The young woman said that she now has two addictions but gets no support. She asked me for help and because I am not an MSP for her area I passed on her e-mail. I also asked parliamentary questions on the matter. A doctor who works in drug services told me a similar story about a young woman who went through detox in Glasgow because there were no services in her home town of Campbeltown. The doctor said, "I detoxed her with a heavy heart, because if she injects heroin she will die." Those are anecdotal examples of the issues that we must deal with. I wish I had more time to speak.

We need integrated services that treat addicts, assess children's needs and put together a care plan. I welcome the acknowledgment of the role of the extended family and I am disappointed that the Executive's document on hidden harm contains just two scant mentions of kinship care and extended families. The best way of protecting children is to support grandparents and other members of the extended family who take on the children and do a good job.

Photo of Ms Rosemary Byrne Ms Rosemary Byrne SSP

The Presiding Officer is indicating that I must finish, which is unfortunate. Let us have an approach to the problem that supports and protects the more than 50,000 children in Scotland who live with drug-using parents, by keeping children with families as much as possible, making the necessary assessments and providing the support that is required.

Photo of Scott Barrie Scott Barrie Labour 3:46, 11 May 2006

The toll that substance misuse in all its forms takes on wider family members is often incalculable. The estimate that more than 50,000 children are affected by a parent's drug misuse is mind boggling and it is incumbent on all members to do whatever they can to address the issue.

I hope that the debate will make it clear that there is no single solution to the problem. Myriad complementary strategies need to be developed and enhanced if we are to tackle the issue effectively. This might have been said, but it should be continually restated, particularly in a debate such as this one: we must focus not just on the parent but on the child or young person. The Children (Scotland) Act 1995 could not be more explicit in stating that the needs of the child are paramount. That is easy to say but much more difficult to put into practice. We must ensure that children's interests remain at the forefront of our attention, but those interests can often conflict with what parents want or think they want.

The minister acknowledged that the decision compulsorily to remove a child from the parental home is difficult. I have had to make such decisions, as have other members. We know that outcomes for most children in the public care system are poor, but we must also accept that the outcomes for children in some households are as poor, if not poorer. The task that faces not just social workers but wider society is to get such decisions right. There must be no presumption that children will be left at home, but equally there can be no presumption that we will remove more than 50,000 children from their homes and place them in the public care system. We need to know which children require extra support, what support is needed and when that support is needed. We must also ensure that we provide the right support.

When I left the employment of Fife Council in 1999, 94 approved foster carers were looking after about 150 young people. This week, 150 council-approved foster carers are looking after 253 young people. It would be neither possible nor desirable to increase the number of carers exponentially so that the 1,500 or more children in Fife who live in households in which there is substance misuse could be admitted into the public care system. Some children will have to be taken into public care, but others can live at home, be cared for by the extended family or be cared for in a shared-care arrangement on a statutory or voluntary basis.

Indeed, it seems to me that the principles of the 1995 act are not always being upheld. Far too often, young people end up in public care under statutory orders as opposed to living in substitute care on a shared-care basis through voluntary means in which both foster carers and wider kinship care are utilised. If we are serious about addressing the problem that we are discussing, we must start to embrace the concept of shared care. There should not be a one-size-fits-all approach, or one system or the other system. Wider family members are regularly utilised in our child care practices, but the public care system far too often involves a choice between one system and another. A much more appropriate system is not utilised.

"Hidden Harm: Scottish Executive Response to the Report of the Inquiry by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs" is an incredibly worthwhile document. It must be acknowledged that more than half of it consists of recommendations and what will be done, which we must concentrate on—that has not been mentioned. One response that I want to highlight relates to recommendation 10. The document states:

"Ministers have announced that child protection training will be a mandatory requirement for all social workers registered with the Scottish Social Services Council".

For far too long, child protection has been seen as being the responsibility only of child and family social workers, when it is the responsibility of all those who work in the child care system as well as of wider society.

More resources are needed, but much more effective use must be made of the resources that are currently available. It is not acceptable that 50 per cent of places at Brenda House are vacant. Before we call for more resources, we must ensure that local authorities are using the resources that are currently available to their maximum potential.

One size does not fit all. If we are serious about ensuring that children's and young people's needs are central to our agenda, we must ensure that parents' needs are not confused or conflated with them.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party 3:52, 11 May 2006

I happily concur with a great deal of what Scott Barrie has said, but I want to make three points.

First, I agree with what the minister said about needing to put child protection at the heart of things. Clearly that needs to happen. Child protection is at the heart of various matters in Scotland, including in disputes between parents when they are getting divorced. In such situations, it is not a matter of choosing between mum and dad, but of what is in the child's best interests. The same applies when we are talking about drugs. Scott Barrie testified to the fact that it is not a matter of choosing between a drug-free environment and an environment in which there may be drugs, albeit that they are monitored and controlled; the issue is what is in the best interests of the child.

Secondly, it is important to consider the point that Fiona Hyslop correctly made. The problem is a social problem that requires social solutions—it is not simply a criminal justice problem.

Thirdly, in looking for solutions, we must ensure that we do not create scapegoats. In many tragedies, the agenda is not so much political as driven by tabloid headlines and a desire simply to find someone to blame. We must recognise that if judgment calls must be made, they can sometimes go wrong. We cannot get into a position in which nobody is prepared to make a decision because they are afraid that it might be wrong. I am not saying that we should allow people to make mistakes willy-nilly or that we should not consider mistakes that have been made in the past and how problems can be solved to ensure that they are not replicated; I am saying that we must recognise that mistakes will sometimes be made, that wrong judgment calls will be made and that, rather than stigmatise a social worker who is to blame—

Photo of Hugh Henry Hugh Henry Labour

I share the member's sentiments, but would he say that politicians in this Parliament and elsewhere have a responsibility? If he believes that judgment calls can sometimes go wrong and that their dong so should not lead to people being stigmatised, politicians here or elsewhere should not call for an inquiry every time a mistake is made.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

I heartily concur with that. When a mistake is made, we must review, but an inquiry is clearly not needed or beneficial in every instance. If an incident happens, there might be a public inquiry, but in many instances that will not be necessary. It is a matter of balance.

On the general point, I agree with Hugh Henry that politicians should take cognisance of the fact that we have access to the media and can either dampen the situation down or inflame it.

Other members have made the point that the state has not been a good parent. Mistakes have been made in the past and there was a perception—which transcended political parties and went across the view of the social work service—that we should ensure that kids were dealt with at home. Clearly, we went too far. That is not to say that those decisions were made wrongly; nobody deliberately set out to create a situation in which people would be harmed. Nevertheless, we recognise that we got it wrong and went too far. We must ensure that we do not simply bounce back, have a knee-jerk reaction and go entirely the other way. We must recognise that, as in many instances, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

We must consider what is in the best interests of the child. In some instances, we may have to take them out of the parental home irrespective of how their relationship is, but in other instances that would be inappropriate, because—as other members, in particular Fiona Hyslop, said—the state has not been a good parent. It is not that the state set out deliberately to harm the children, but there have been problems because of the nature of the environment in which the children live and we must address that.

We need legislation to ensure that access to information is changed. We have a problem in that people can be—perhaps correctly—hung up on the fact that it is not within their ability or their rights to disclose information. We must also recognise that some of the issues come down to personalities. We cannot make the health visitor speak to the police officer and the general practitioner. We can put the structures in place, but we must also try to ensure that people work together within those structures. It comes back to the point that, at some stage, decisions will have to be made.

As Scott Barrie said, we will have to make a decision about what is in the best interests of a child, and we must give some slack to those in the front line who have to make those decisions. They will be social workers not at the senior level in the ADSW, but at the rank-and-file level, and we will have to allow them to make some mistakes without being pilloried.

Photo of Susan Deacon Susan Deacon Labour 3:57, 11 May 2006

By any measure, the 2003 report from the UK Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, "Hidden Harm: Responding to the needs of children of problem drug users", was a landmark document that has hugely informed us about the critically important area of the impact on children of parental drugs misuse. Equally, the work that has been done by the Executive in response to that report has helped to progress both policy and practice in the area. However, there is a challenge for all of us politicians—not just the Executive—to ensure that we use the material in a thoughtful way to reflect the complexity of the issue and that we resist taking a simplistic approach either in a debate on the issue or in seeking policy solutions. Although the hidden harm work rightly shows us the particular impact that parental drugs misuse has on children, we should not single out drugs misuse in areas of policy and practice where there is a commonality of problem or issue with, for example, alcohol misuse and other circumstances that may endanger children or have an adverse impact on their upbringing.

I join other members in saying that we must also factor into the debate a proportionate approach to risk. We must always work to reduce risk, but we can never eliminate it. If we are to retain and recruit the professionals we need in this complex and sensitive area of work, it is vital that we create a climate in which that is recognised, rather than stoking up a climate in which those professionals operate with a fear of failure and ultimate blame when things go wrong—as they will, from time to time.

It is also important that we consider each individual situation and ensure that, in assessing the outcomes of different actions or interventions, we look not just at those that are tangible and measurable. It is easy to recognise the failure in a situation in which a child has been left in the home and subsequently has been injured or—worse still—tragically has died. It is much harder to assess the impact or damage that might result from removing a child from the home, and what might happen over many years to the child, their parents and the wider family as a consequence of the child having gone into care or having gone backwards and forwards between temporary care and their parents.

I want to highlight three specific health policy issues from the "Hidden Harm" report that the Executive published this week. Although I acknowledge that the health and education ministers have signed up to the report along with the Minister for Justice, I am disappointed that no health minister is participating in this debate, because much of this work is about health policy and practice among health professionals and in the national health service.

The first area to mention is maternity services, a theme that I am pleased to say has run right through all the hidden harm work from 2003 to the Executive response in 2004 and the action plan that has come out this week. Indeed, it has run through other associated documents such as "A Framework for maternity services in Scotland" and other work that has been done during the past five years. As is so often the case, the problem is that the commitments have not been translated into practice throughout the country. I do not think that that is because of a lack of political will, but somehow we have to understand why those things have not happened and why many vulnerable women do not get the antenatal care, support at birth and post-natal support that they require.

The second issue is contraception and family planning, which are another theme that runs right through all the various stages of the hidden harm work but which are still not happening in practice. I have heard it said that the budgets are not available to offer some of the contraceptive solutions that might be made available to women who misuse drugs. However, I note that although it costs approximately £80 to £90 to offer a long-acting contraceptive implant that lasts for three years—I stress the word "offer" as it should be part of a process of informed choice—that is not being made universally available to substance-misusing women at the times and in the places that would allow them to access it.

The final issue that I want to mention is school nursing, which was highlighted in the Executive's 2004 response to the advisory council's report. Many school nurses gathered in the Parliament today for an event that I hosted. Let us translate aspiration into practice, as school nurses could do so much more in this area.

Photo of Margaret Mitchell Margaret Mitchell Conservative 4:02, 11 May 2006

The "Hidden Harm" report estimates that approximately 50,000 children are affected by substance misuse in Scotland. As Scott Barrie so aptly stated, that statistic is mind-boggling.

Where children live with a parent or parents who misuse a substance—drugs or alcohol—the safety of the children must be the primary concern of the professionals who have to decide whether they should remain in those households. That is the main message of the "Hidden Harm" report and it is one to be welcomed.

However, although the focus on a child's well-being and safety is clearly good, the issue is far from being straightforward. Children 1st points out that making decisions about the best interests and the future well-being of a child is complex. In other words, it is far from being a black-and-white issue. Some children of substance-abusing parents have strong support and are protected and cared for; sadly, others are not. That being the case, there must be better identification of the children who are at risk and their needs. As the Barnardo's report says, there have to be sustainable ways of supporting children in their families, if that is a safe option.

The importance of family to children cannot be overestimated, yet many of the children of parents who are addicted to drugs or alcohol do not enjoy a normal childhood, and they often assume the role of carers for their parents and younger siblings. That was a point poignantly brought home to me and some fellow MSPs who undertook a heartstart UK course recently, during which the instructors from the British Heart Foundation said that some children as young as five, six or seven are already expert at ensuring that an unconscious person is put into the recovery position pending the arrival of medical help because they frequently have to do that when their drug or alcohol-dependent parent has passed out.

How, then, to best deal with this problem? Certainly, each case must be judged on its merits and, where possible, rather than removing children from their family, the role that the wider family—aunts, uncles, grandparents, other relatives and close family friends—could play in supporting the child should be considered. I am pleased that the motion recognises that.

The approach makes sense, particularly given the shortage of foster carers and the well-documented shortcomings and frequent adverse outcomes of institutional care, including low educational attainment, increased risk of drug use, mental illness, homelessness, offending behaviour and a lack of self esteem.

Without doubt, however, the best way in which to ensure the safety of children and to improve their lives is to ensure that help and treatment for their substance-misusing parents are available, especially at the point at which those addicts are ready to face up to and tackle their addiction. That is when rehabilitation programmes have the greatest chance of being successful. As Rosemary Byrne said, and as the Children 1st report confirms, that help is not always readily available. That situation must be rectified by making drug testing and treatment orders available not only as a high-tariff disposal for offenders with a series of offences but as an early intervention measure for those addicts who have committed one or two minor offences. Further, a sufficient number of rehab places must be available and a directory must be established that would provide information on where those places are, how many of them there are and when they can be accessed.

Without that vital support, I fear that the Executive's proposals for substance-misusing parents to complete the social work and related services' care plans and other extremely worthwhile measures are unlikely to be effective or to achieve the desired end result.

With that in mind, I hope that the Executive will support the amendment in the name of Annabel Goldie.

Photo of Duncan McNeil Duncan McNeil Labour 4:07, 11 May 2006

This is an overdue debate. Like many people in the real world, I express some surprise that there is a debate about whether a child should be left in the supposed care of drug-addicted parents who are living chaotic lives. How can anyone justify leaving a baby to fend for itself while dad is pimping, or robbing gran? How can it be acceptable to leave a seven-year-old to get up and get herself and her wee brother ready for school? How can it be acceptable to leave a seven-year-old in a situation in which he has to climb out of the back window to run to his gran at 2 o'clock in the morning because the latest man in the house is beating up his mother over drugs?

Some would say that those examples are hyped or are of a tabloid nature. However, unfortunately, they represent the reality for too many of our children in Scotland and reflect my case load and the experiences of the people who come to see me. How can it be right, even in the politically correct world of Patrick Harvie, that we leave that situation unchallenged? How can we propose a test that asks whether something would be acceptable for our children and says that, if it is not, it cannot be acceptable for anyone else's?

Photo of Duncan McNeil Duncan McNeil Labour

No, we have limited time and Mr Harvie has already said a lot.

The children whom we are talking about are the real victims of drugs. We have had many debates that have treated the drug addict as the victim. However, it is the children who take the consequences, not the individuals who turn down help and who are in a life of addiction, drug use and crime. Some of them choose to take drugs. Some of them end up pregnant when they are in no way able to look after a child.

I am pleased that we are talking about the hidden harm today. However, it has not been hidden at all; the problem is simply that we have not faced up to it. I am glad that we are facing up to it today. The measures in the document will do a lot to tackle the problem.

Objections have been raised over the cost and dubious benefits of putting drug addicts' children into care but, as others have said, local authority care is not the only option. Indeed, it may be the second-best option. Many members would agree that we can address the situation with the help of the wider family. In my experience of such cases, grandparents are desperate to get involved, to look after the children and to protect them from harm.

Grandparents can make a real contribution, but they have been excluded by the system. They believe that the system has conspired against them and prevented them from being involved. They have suffered from the actions of overoptimistic professionals who say that everything will be okay in a week or a month. Jack McConnell mentioned the role of grandparents earlier today, and Rosemary Byrne raised the matter as well. As Jack McConnell said, grandparents are not in it for financial gain, but we should not exploit their love for and commitment to the children. They need support to ensure that they can do a good job.

Susan Deacon referred to the other question that we need to ask. Why are we in a situation where so many of those who are addicted to drugs are having children? We know from the document and from reality that there are dangers such as HIV and AIDS and dangers to the mother and child from difficult pregnancies. We are talking about people with long-term addictions. Susan Deacon gave us some ideas on how we can tackle the problem, but as a first step we need to explore putting an oral contraceptive in methadone. In that way, we could reduce the problem and prevent some children from coming to harm. That would be good not just for the families involved but for taxpayers, who spend a lot of money on the problem. I hope that ministers will take those ideas on board.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat 4:12, 11 May 2006

I welcome the opportunity to participate in this important debate. It is a classic example of a debate on not just a cross-cutting issue but a cross-party issue. The Parliament should be able to debate and discuss the matter independently of party politics because we all know the problems that people face as a result of drug addiction and the problems that that creates for many of our children.

The issue is not just about justice, the health service or education. I am pleased that Robert Brown has turned up to hear part of the debate. It would have been helpful to have one of the health ministers here too, but I am sure that they will find out what was said in the debate. It is important that we take a cross-cutting approach to the matter. Indeed, the "Hidden Harm" document was published jointly by three key departments: the Justice Department, the Education Department and the Health Department. That sends out an important message.

We need co-operation and co-ordination between services on the ground too. We need co-operation between maternity services, health workers, general practitioners, child care services, nursery nurses, teachers and law enforcement agencies to ensure not only that services are provided as and when they are required but that information is available so that people know whether they need to look out for a problem. If a teacher does not know that a child comes from a family with drug addiction problems, they might not know that they should look out for problems. In the recent tragic case in Edinburgh, the child did not turn up to nursery, but that was not spotted for weeks. That is a classic example of a case in which something should have happened simply because people should have been aware that there was a problem.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

I am sorry. I have only a few minutes and I do not want to take an intervention on that particular point.

It is important that we have information, but we must also be aware of the law of unintended consequences. We must not require information in a way that puts people off coming forward for the help and support that they need. We must be aware of that, because it is an important issue. We cannot have parents refusing to seek support for their addiction problems, whether they are alcohol or drug related, because they fear that they will be prosecuted or stigmatised or that information will reach their employers that affects their ability to continue their work. Those are important issues that we must bear in mind. Those considerations extend beyond parents to the extended family, about which we have spoken much in the debate. Grandparents, uncles, aunts and siblings should not fear that by coming forward to seek support and services, they will be in some way disadvantaged.

The child's interests are of course paramount. We cannot take 50,000 children into care and we must recognise that the state does not have a great record on the outcomes of the care that it provides. We should support approaches such as those of Children 1st and measures such as family conferences and extending kinship care to ensure that help and support are available to children when they need it.

The Drug and Alcohol Project Levenmouth has recently organised a project on family support services in my constituency. It had to scramble to obtain funds to run the pilot project, but that has proved a success, so I hope that longer-term funding will be obtained. Funding should be provided for such important additional services, which are aimed not directly at the family and the children but at the extended family and how they can cope when parents have drug problems.

It is important to recognise that access to addiction services is not as widely and readily available as it should be. It cannot be right that some people who want help to deal with an addiction problem might have to wait months before they have access to services. It is not in a child's interests if their parent is left in limbo while waiting for access to support. That child may be left in care or in an unsatisfactory family situation because their parent does not have access to the support that they require.

I fully accept that our society has priority areas that have more concentrated problems with drugs, so it is right to concentrate resources on such areas. However, we must not forget that there are hidden problems of drugs—not just hidden harm—in some of our more rural communities, where people who suffer from addiction can suffer severe problems of isolation and in getting transport and access to services. We must not forget that those people need access to services, too.

The debate is important and has been good. I hope that we can take the politics out of the issue for the remainder of the parliamentary session and in future sessions, because members need to act together on the issue.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 4:17, 11 May 2006

How many members sometimes wonder—like I do—why we do our job? I know that many people out there think that they could do it much better than we can. On a day such as today, we realise that we can do something to change people's lives and the "Hidden Harm—Next Steps" report provides a way to do that. Much in the report is useful and positive. We can identify the problem but, as many members have said, the solution involves many factors and one size does not fit all.

In all my training and, I hope, my practice as a social worker, the child's welfare was paramount. How many times have I written and read that phrase in reports to children's hearings and to courts? Even before the massive misuse of substances, we always had the option of taking children into care or of using the extended family when care was inappropriate. Whether to take children into care has always been one of the most important decisions that a social worker makes and it is never a knee-jerk reaction, believe me.

Where did we put kids in the past? They went to large residential settings that were usually short of staff. However, we were sure that they had three meals a day and clean beds and that they went to school, so that was great—that was as much as we could do.

I have said before in the chamber and I will say again that social work is a much-maligned profession. It is not for social workers to make the final decision on whether a child goes into care; that decision is for the children's hearings system or the court. As Susan Deacon said, a risk is attached to that. As she spoke, I thought of two occasions when my recommendation was kicked into touch and two children went home to be sexually abused again by their parents. I cannot tell members how that felt. It took six weeks before I could sort out the situation. I was frustrated and angry and felt fear for the children. We must remember that social workers do not take kids into care just because to do so is a good idea and gets them out of the way for a wee while.

Back in those days, case conferences were seen by some disciplines as not very important, but I think that things have improved a great deal. The report will ensure effective multi-agency assessment for substance users with children. Accurate communication between disciplines is essential. I can remember GPs, psychologists and social workers not turning up to case conferences because they did not think them important. We must build on the proposed legislation by introducing a duty to share information for the purposes of child protection. That is good practice.

If the proposal is to retain children at home under a possible contract with the parents and to develop a new national fostering strategy, some serious questions need to be addressed. I agree with the points that were made by Fiona Hyslop, Margo MacDonald and Rosemary Byrne, in that I have a wee bit of a fear that the report puts the cart before the horse in some ways. Retaining children at home must mean immediate help and support for the parent who is looking after them. Contracts will be no good if a range of support services is not available.

Margo MacDonald raised the issue of what methadone means. Methadone means that there is an immediate and definite change in a chaotic lifestyle. It means that the kids get up, get their breakfast and get to school. It means that there is food in the house when they return from school. However, methadone treatment is absolutely no good if it is not backed up with serious support and services.

What does it mean to be the child of a substance user? It means that a kid is withdrawn, aggressive, has no confidence and faces social isolation. These kids are afraid of what they will find when they get home. They feel in second place to the drugs.

I am impressed by the 14 local authorities in Scotland who convene family group conferences that include all members of extended families who are encouraged to take on responsibility for the family plan and for the care and protection of the kids involved. However, many such children are looked after by their grandparents. If their parents have a chaotic lifestyle, grandparents often step in without any support from the public services. Such support is unknown and untapped, because the kids may be looked after for only six weeks before the parents stop using. However, the same situation might arise in another six weeks' time. If such kids are in and out of their grandparents' care, how do we provide support? To my mind, it is clear that grandparents who look after grandchildren who are known to the services should be paid, in money and in kind. Fewer grandparents would then walk away feeling that they were not supported. I believe that we need a national scheme.

The weakness in the document is the lack of checks and balances to ensure that the money—the issue will be money—is being properly used by local authorities and voluntary organisations. I am not absolutely sure that, once a need has been identified, the services will be available to respond to that need.

Children have a right to a childhood. We have a responsibility to ensure that they have one.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

I should advise at this stage that I will need to deduct a minute from the time available for each of the closing speakers as well.

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party 4:23, 11 May 2006

Although the publication of the "Hidden Harm—Next Steps" report gives the Executive another opportunity to highlight the plight of children who are exposed to drugs, I hope that the many professionals who work with vulnerable children do not say, with an air of resignation, "Aye, another report—aims but nae action and nae meaningful money into the right places." I hope that the report is not simply a knee-jerk reaction to the media coverage of recent months that has highlighted the tragic consequences for the vulnerable children of drug-abusing parents.

Action must be taken and measurable success achieved as a result of the report.

In recent years, studies have concluded that, contrary to popular opinion, children are introduced to drugs not by pushers outside schools or peers, but mostly by family members. In one University of Glasgow study, a third of the 10 to 12-year-olds in the sample had been exposed to drugs, a quarter had been exposed to cannabis and substantial numbers had been in situations in which harder drugs had been used. Although children may be able to avoid situations in which friends and peers use drugs, it is much more difficult for children to avoid situations in which family members are the drug users. As others have mentioned, that would seem to be borne out by the recent tragic cases of Michael McGarrity and Derek Doran, both of whom were identified as children of substance-misuse parents.

Such conclusions also highlight the need to ensure that education in schools on the danger of substance abuse not only adopts a broad-brush approach towards all pupils but targets supplementary help at specific groups of vulnerable children. If such targeting allows children, individually or in small groups, to open up to professionals about the specific dangers that they face in their home environment, meaningful intervention might be possible at an earlier stage.

That would obviously be relevant only to school-age children but, as Susan Deacon mentioned, those of us who met school nurses at lunch time today and those who have read the Association of Directors of Social Work's report will know that obtaining consent from the parents of primary school children is often a real difficulty, and that solution could allow the problem to be addressed at an early stage. I hope that the minister will agree that removing barriers to listening to children themselves must be an early priority.

One thing that I hope will result from the report and from today's debate is a recognition by all those working with children—midwives, practice nurses, doctors, nursery nurses, teachers, classroom assistants and anyone working in health, education, social work, the police and even the prison service, where prison officers see children on prison visits being used as drug mules with drugs hidden in their nappies and in other parts of their clothing—that they have a duty to share their concerns at an early stage. No one should say that it is not their place, and I agree with Trish Godman that everyone should see it as their duty to express their concerns and to have those concerns investigated—better to be safe than sorry.

The concerns of wider family members should also be taken seriously, as has been suggested. As soon as such concerns are brought to the attention of the authorities, action should be taken. Far too often, family members are ignored and those who would be willing to help if support were given are left feeling powerless to intervene. We saw such a situation in the tragic case of Danielle Reid in Inverness.

That leads us on to the question whether at-risk children should be left with their parents or taken into the care of foster parents or local authority children's homes. Experience has shown that long-term stays in children's homes can often be detrimental to children's academic and life skills attainment, so it should not be a route that is taken lightly. Fostering is often a more positive experience, but if children who are at risk can be cared for safely by drug-free family members—grandparents, older siblings or members of the wider family—that should be considered.

I agree with Scotland's commissioner for children and young people that each case should be considered individually and that the best should be done for each child. I would also like to highlight the question that Pauline McNeill asked at First Minister's question time this morning, and I caution the Executive to think carefully before blindly following England in the numbers game and settling for a maximum of three children in one foster home. Such a limit takes no account of the persons already in the fostering family or of the need to keep larger numbers of children together.

The minister mentioned the implementation group. I would have been much more impressed if, instead of a top-down approach being taken again, that group had included members from neighbourhoods with drug problems, people who have already been drug users and others who could enable the group to take a bottom-up approach.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

We move now to winding-up speeches. I call Jean Turner.

Photo of Dr Jean Turner Dr Jean Turner Independent 4:28, 11 May 2006

This has been an excellent debate. Trish Godman put her finger on the crux of the matter: it is one thing to identify a need but it is another thing to provide for that need. So often, professionals find that they have a problem but do not have resources to help them deal with it.

Workforce is essential, and I am glad that the Deputy Minister for Health and Community Care is in the chamber, because I think that it is mainly a health problem. I hate to think of anybody going to prison because they have a drug problem. We must do some research to find out why people take drugs and why it is such a problem. We all recognise that it is a huge national problem, but none of us has the answer. We need to find answers and we must consider Margo MacDonald's suggestion of a pilot project for heroin. Methadone has its place, but all that that does is to substitute a prescription drug for an illegal one. The tragedy of drugs is that it is often a mixed picture, with people taking methadone, alcohol and other things. Someone may go into prison an alcoholic and come out a heroin addict. Things like that must stop.

It is lovely to hear everyone saying that the child is important and so is the family. Children love their parents regardless of what they do or how they are. They love their parents and their parents love them. We must not separate children and parents if we can avoid it. Care within the extended family is by far the best way to deal with the issue. Sometimes extended families cannot provide such care for financial reasons. They need to be given support. It is inevitable that on some occasions a child will have to be taken into care, but the period should be as short as possible. Therefore, the parent must receive treatment immediately so that the child and the parent can be married up again.

I have been delighted to hear the debate, although it is tragic that 20-odd years on we are still discussing the issue. It used to be my despair when I was in general practice. I say in defence of general practitioners that it was sometimes difficult to get to meetings, but I got to as many as I could. I sometimes had to get a locum in so that I could be there, because the meetings were not always at times when I could leave my desk unattended.

We must consider a range of financial ways in which we can help in addition to addressing the workforce issue.

The issue is often kept secret by children and families as they do not want to let anybody know what is going on in their family. It can be extremely difficult for health professionals to put their finger on the problem or to get help for the people who need it.

Kenny MacAskill and other members made the good point that we should not do anything to make it difficult for professionals to do their job. They must not be scared to do their job and should not fear that the law will turn against them. When people make mistakes they have to carry the can, but there must be an easier way for people to deal with the issue. Rehabilitation services are certainly not sufficient throughout the country. The problem exists everywhere, but good practice occurs only in pockets here and there.

Time is running away from us. We must try to do more research and provide the support suggested by Margo MacDonald. I take on board the points that many members made, but Trish Godman certainly put her finger on the crux of the matter. I hope, in the light of the report, that it is not the case that once needs are assessed they cannot be met.

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat 4:32, 11 May 2006

It is a privilege being an MSP during debates such as this, but there is also deep personal frustration that we cannot right all the wrongs all the time.

The estimated 40,000 to 60,000 children in Scotland who are affected by parental drug use require a range of support, from the public sector and, as we have heard, from other family members, friends, volunteers and communities. The kind of support that the children need will often come from different parts of the state: local government; national Government; schools; children's hearings panels; social work departments; the police; and health boards. I know that it is the holy grail, but it is vital that all parts of the public sector work together effectively. As the minister said in her speech, an integrated multi-agency approach is required. She is right, of course, but better integration is required now.

As has been said, many parents who have drugs and alcohol problems lead a chaotic lifestyle. In some cases the lifestyle leads to the drugs and alcohol abuse, but in others the drugs and alcohol abuse has created the lifestyle. I am glad that there is reference to the matter and that actions are outlined in "Hidden Harm—Next Steps", but there is even wider scope to provide the range of support that is needed for many single parents or families with substance abuse problems. Such parents often experience housing difficulties and unemployment, and in many cases they have mental health issues—that has not been touched on much in the debate—as well as physical health issues.

Many of the parents are very young. I met a young woman on an excellent Fairbridge scheme. She told me that when she was in hospital giving birth to her daughter—she was in her teens—her mother was in the same hospital giving birth to her new sister. Because of her drug taking—an addiction to heroin—she was told that there was a real possibility that the baby would be taken away from the hospital. What is the way forward for someone like that? How do we provide the right level of support for such a family?

I was impressed by the young woman as a person and not just by her attitude on the Fairbridge scheme and by how she saw herself through her difficulties. I was struck by her knowledge of the system and its weaknesses and gaps. Such knowledge is part of the hidden talent of many such people, which Euan Robson highlighted in his speech. I received a masterclass from her in nonsensical aspects of the benefits system and users' perspectives of social work services. Such information is vital for local and national policy makers.

Margo MacDonald and others mentioned alcohol. Society is, to an extent, to blame for the many more children who are affected by alcohol-abusing parents or family members. Alcohol problems are too often regarded as acceptable harm because there are not the same preconceived views about the economic backgrounds of alcoholics as there are about drug abusers. The alcohol abuser can be the advocate, the consultant or the businesswoman. They can be fine at work in many situations, but not fine at home. We do not focus sufficiently on alcohol abuse in Scotland. Scott Barrie made an excellent speech about the dangers of glibly stating that it would be a solution simply to put more children into the public care system. Trish Godman was extremely eloquent about the complexities of the process that would lead to that.

For high-profile incidents or difficult processes involving a decision to remove a child from a home and put them into foster care or into the care of the state, we must ensure that we do as much as possible to make the bureaucratic systems as efficient as possible. The time that a child spends away from a parent or parents should be determined solely by the interests of the child and not by the bureaucratic processes and their timeframe.

I recently visited Wellington school, which used to be the kind of institution to which Trish Godman referred—a borstal. The school is in my constituency, but it is a City of Edinburgh school for boys with behavioural or other special problems. I met a boy there who is looked after by the state. He is a resident and he is perhaps one of the children to whom Duncan McNeil referred. The boy has distinct needs, one of which is that he does not have a mam or dad. He does not have such role models to give him the kind of constant support that I took for granted when I was growing up. The teachers in the school do a fantastic job, but what is heartbreaking is that they are effectively his mam and dad.

My point is that the kind of thing that happened to him 10 years ago is what we are in part debating today. The interests of the child are not just the immediate interests in the particular circumstances of that day. If we as legislators get it wrong and continue to do so, it will be much harder to get it right 10 years from now for young people like the lad I met.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative 4:37, 11 May 2006

I do not often do this in a debate, but I will start with a personal anecdote. As members will be aware, I live in the west end of Glasgow close to the Queen Mother's maternity hospital. Some years ago I got a telephone call from the social work department asking whether someone could come and see me to get a place-of-safety order for a child. A social worker arrived and, as I put her on oath, I saw that this case-hardened woman was close to tears. The application was in respect of a child who was three hours old and whose drug-abusing parents wanted to take it, in a jaundiced condition, out of hospital.

Naturally, I granted the petition, but I wondered what happened to that child. Indeed, I wonder today what happened to the child. If anyone feels that a situation would never arise that would justify taking a child away from parents, that case is a classic illustration—as were the illustrations that Duncan McNeil gave. Of course, taking a child from parents must always be a last resort and the situation must be extreme, but that facility must exist. We must consider other answers, too. We must recognise that, as Scott Barrie and Maureen Watt said, the situation of children in long-term care is not a happy one and we must look to a more positive alternative such as fostering.

On the question of drug addiction generally, we must consider certain matters. The debate has advanced an awful lot over the past few years and I think that today's debate has been good. It demonstrates the progress that has been made, but there is still much more to be done. There must be recognition that there are not enough rehabilitation places in Scotland. Indeed, when the Executive was asked about that matter some time ago, it did not know the precise number of available places. We must recognise that we have a problem of massive proportions and that a greater number of rehabilitation places must be made available.

As I have said before, we have got the emphasis wrong in the drugs courts. There is little point in sending people who have 40 or 50 convictions to those courts in the vain hope that some of them will get their act together. The fact is that that does not happen.

The Executive's statistics on the performance of the drugs courts are very disappointing. If the Executive was prepared to send first offenders or those with a marginal number of convictions to those courts and ensure that they got immediate drug treatment and testing orders and that residential rehabilitation was made available as a possibility, the courts' success rate would be immeasurably higher. We would see real progress in that direction if that was to happen.

Photo of Ms Rosemary Byrne Ms Rosemary Byrne SSP

Does the member agree that it is cheaper to send someone to rehab than it is to put them in prison?

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

I accept that, on the face of it, it is cheaper, but the argument is wide. What we cannot do is to quantify the damage that the individual may do when they are at liberty.

I say to Patrick Harvie and Jean Turner that people are sent to prison not because they are drug addicts, but because they are harming other people.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

I am sorry, but I must press on.

As Jean Turner rightly said, we must look at the issue of methadone and find more imaginative solutions. I despair of the fact that people are prescribed methadone as a temporary panacea and not as part of a programme under which they will be weaned off methadone by the use of other drugs or therapies. I hope that the Executive will get round to considering that issue.

There are other aspects of the report that I find vaguely depressing. First, it is wrong that the Executive has to legislate to address the fact that departments are not behaving cohesively.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

The Deputy Minister for Justice may say that, but there is an air of resignation on the subject. I appreciate and understand the reason for that; it is borne of frustration. The deputy minister is a caring man and he sees that the system is failing. If highly paid professionals are not performing, we need to know why. Legislation is not required; agencies must simply get their act together. In this day and age, it is not acceptable for them to do otherwise.

As I said, we have progressed in this area but there is still much more to do. Drug abuse is probably one of the principal problems that faces Scotland today and we have to react accordingly.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party 4:42, 11 May 2006

Like many members, I found the debate illuminating and interesting. However, one voice that was missing from the debate was the voice of the child him or herself.

In looking over the motion and amendments, I note that the word "children" appears only in the fourth line of the Executive motion. That criticism applies equally to the SNP, because in our amendment the word comes even further down. That point was prompted by what I heard in the debate. It was an aftersight, which is further exemplified by "Hidden Harm—Next Steps:

Supporting Children—Working With Parents." On reading the progress report in annex 1 to that document, nowhere do I see that children were asked to tell us about their experiences. Elsewhere in the report, I found reference to a small episode in which children were listened to.

The reality is that no child is in the chamber. I do not know that there is an addict in the chamber, but I know that there are parents, and members who are social workers and who have indirectly been exposed to the experience of the hidden harm that is done to children by substance misuse. We should not imagine that children are unable to articulate their experience and deliver it to us. The absence of children from the report and the chamber is the big hole in the middle of the Polo mint that is the debate. We should all take that fact away from the debate and consider it further.

The SNP has put up a cross-cutting team for the debate—I have the justice portfolio and my colleague Fiona Hyslop is responsible for children's issues. I am glad that the Executive front bench is now populated by representatives of all three departments that have signed up to the report. It was excellent that members of each of the relevant committees from various political parties—the Education Committee, the justice committees and the Health Committee—have participated in the debate.

In her opening remarks, the minister said that the document contains a clear programme for action. I raised that point with the minister at the time; I ask her to forgive me, but I do not see it that way. I do not find anything harmful or to which I object in the report. Some new money has been announced and there are one or two references to timetables but, by and large, the report does not fit the description of a programme for action. I simply cannot get away from an objective that says that the Executive will "ensure that" certain people respond to "requests for assurances". To be fair, that is the worst example, but much of the report is about stuff that is happening anyway. The report does not do justice, as a follow-up, to the Executive's initial response to the "Hidden Harm" report, which had substantially more merit and was more focused.

The speeches have been varied. I regret that Ms MacDonald did not mention children once in her speech—I listened carefully for that. I may not be the only member who experienced drug addicts coming to the house in which I lived for their prescribed heroin fix. My father was a general practitioner and, in the 1950s, GPs dealt with that scheme. I must say that I saw no outcomes that justify particular enthusiasm for a return to the system. The Swiss find that fewer than 5 per cent of addicts benefit from the scheme. On that basis, I cannot be persuaded to support Ms MacDonald's amendment, now that she has explained what the words are meant to imply.

Other members spoke about children—Euan Robson had some useful comments in that regard, although Patrick Harvie did not speak particularly about children. As always, Rosemary Byrne spoke a great deal of sense and I respect her comments. Kenny MacAskill said that we must be tolerant of mistakes. The issue is one on which it is easy to make knee-jerk reactions. For example, on a related issue, Mr Blair, the Prime Minister, came to Glasgow on 18 February 2001 and committed to having a drug dealers register that every convicted drug dealer would have to sign. Earlier today, I asked the House of Commons library to update me on that and was told that no such register exists and no progress has been made.

The love between parents and children has been touched on and is an important point to bear in mind. A child will love a parent. My father once said in a speech about someone else that he was the person's friend because of his many virtues, although my father felt that the person was his friend despite my father's many failings. Relationships between drug addict parents and children are often thus. We must always support the children above the parents.

Photo of Hugh Henry Hugh Henry Labour 4:49, 11 May 2006

The debate has been useful. Several members have mentioned the cross-cutting nature of the issue and the fact that it covers several portfolios. We take that seriously, which is why three ministers feature in and give their support to the report and why the document is a product of joint work between the departments. It is important to emphasis that, although Cathy Jamieson and I have a justice responsibility, there is a health element to many of our considerations of and dealings with people. There is also an education element for us to consider, just as there is a justice element for the other ministers to consider. The fact that Cathy Jamieson opened the debate and I am closing it does not imply that the other departments are not involved; they have been involved intimately in the production of the report.

Stewart Stevenson asked where was the voice of the children. I refer him to Cathy Jamieson's opening speech, in which her first words were "Every child". At the heart of her speech was the need to consider the interests of children. Stewart Stevenson also asked about the consultation. The report, "Hidden Harm—Next Steps: Supporting Children—Working With Parents" does not repeat the first "Hidden Harm" document, around which there was extensive consultation, which involved listening to the voices of children. It is not intended to duplicate the work of voluntary organisations such as the Aberlour Child Care Trust, which work with children, listen to them and allow them to express themselves. Having said that, I put on record the fact that we consulted children and families directly when we developed the report. It is important that children's voices influence what we are trying to do.

Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative

Does the minister agree that, given the context of the debate, it is impossible to consider the best interests of the children without having an intelligent debate about the plight of their addicted parents?

Photo of Hugh Henry Hugh Henry Labour

It is clear that we cannot consider children's needs in isolation from the parents' behaviour and needs, and the needs of the wider family. Equally, we cannot put the needs and interests of others before the interests of the children. It makes absolute sense to say that a complex integration of relationships influences what needs to be done in relation to children. I will return to that point.

The question was asked whether the report is an action document. We have said deliberately that it sets out the next steps. We do not see it as the final product, but nor do we see it as simply the starting point. If members care to refer back to the document, they will see that specific actions are set out in relation to a number of issues. Those include:

"invest a further £1m in workforce development establish incentives for GP practices establish key performance indicators".

The document refers to legislation, preparing guidance and a number of things on which we are acting and will continue to act.

There have been many useful and thoughtful speeches. When Jeremy Purvis spoke about the young person whom he met at Wellington school, he used a word that sums up what we are talking about. He said that he found the issue heartbreaking, which it is. If we strip away all our political differences and the fact that sometimes we try to score points and advance our own political interests against those of others, when it comes down to it we are talking about children who are living in desperate circumstances, facing daily danger in some cases, whose futures are blighted and whose lives are at risk. That is heartbreaking.

I can cite examples that I have come across, as Bill Aitken did. I remember the joy that my family felt when my first grandchild was born. We were in the hospital at a time of joy and celebration. In the same ward as my daughter was a young girl whose baby was already addicted, because of her circumstances. That baby had to be put into immediate isolation with support and the mother had to be given intensive support. They had to be isolated for the sake of the child and for the safety of those around them. The father, who wanted to visit the child, came into the hospital ward full of drugs, shouting at the nurses, making demands and wanting to take the child away to God knows what fate. I wonder what happened to that child. The comment that I and others in my family made was, "God help that child." We wondered what was in front of the child and whether it would live through to adolescence, even if it made it out of hospital. That was heartbreaking and tragic to see. It is an example of why we need a measured response.

Kenny MacAskill and others were right to say that mistakes are sometimes made. We should not punish workers who do a job fantastically well in extremely difficult circumstances. I would not like to do that job. Rather than punish people for making mistakes, we should correct their mistakes and help them to move on. People who are guilty of deliberate inaction or who go beyond the guidelines and do something that is harmful should be punished, but those who make mistakes should not continue to attract opprobrium. If they do, we will not be able to get people to work in such jobs.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

The Government plans to establish a legislative duty to share information. Will a linked national computer network that allows information to be shared be provided before people are criminalised for not sharing information?

Photo of Hugh Henry Hugh Henry Labour

That is a farcical point. It is absurd to try to substitute some of the points that have been made with a point about information technology systems. In any case, we have made progress with such systems. We have piloted IT child protection systems in Lanarkshire, which will be rolled out more widely. In a few days, an update on all the recommendations that are contained in "It's everyone's job to make sure I'm alright" will be presented to the Education Committee.

There are issues that we must face up to. Scott Barrie spoke about the importance of focusing on the needs of children; he also mentioned the need to make the best use of current resources. Although substantial resources have been provided, they are not always used wisely. We need to know why that is the case. Scott Barrie was right to say that there should be no presumption that children will be left at home.

Something that has attracted no comment is Cathy Jamieson's suggestion that parents could be tested to find out whether they are addicted. We must take some fairly drastic steps to provide the protection to children that members agree is necessary.

Trish Godman was one of several members who mentioned kinship and the need to support families. She was right—families must be supported.

Photo of Hugh Henry Hugh Henry Labour

I will develop my point and if the member still wants to intervene once I have done so, she can.

Trish Godman and others were right to highlight the fact that the children of drug-abusing parents often live in social isolation and have to assume the responsibility of adults. It is tragic that they are scared to find out what will happen when they go home. Such children could benefit from the support that grandparents can provide, although I recognise that grandparents sometimes struggle to support children financially. Local authorities have the responsibility and the resources to take action on that. Trish Godman mentioned that some of them already do. Given that councils have that responsibility and the necessary budgets, and that they know we believe it is a matter on which they should act, Cathy Jamieson will take up the issue with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities if they fail to do so. She will ask COSLA to introduce a national scheme to ensure that there is consistency throughout Scotland. If that does not happen and councils continue not to fulfil their responsibilities, the Parliament will need to revisit the issue.

A number of useful points have been made in the debate. We recognise that kinship carers play a fantastic role but, ultimately, we must do something that protects children who live in tragic circumstances, whose futures are blighted, whose lives are at risk and who are suffering, sometimes in silence or in heartbreaking circumstances. Those children demand our help and we should pledge it to them.