A study out last week by drug and alcohol treatment agency Addaction and social care charity Turning Point paints a bleak picture of drug and alcohol services for young people. Amy Taylor talks to Rebecca Cheshire, Addaction’s young people’s policy and practice manager about the findings.
Your report has found that drug action teams find it particularly difficult to engage with social services and child and adolescent mental health teams. Why is this and what can be done to improve it?
I think that, historically, substance misuse hasn’t been very high up on the agenda in children’s services. There haven’t been comprehensive screening and assessment tools used within children’s services to effectively identify drug and alcohol issues. As a result, there hasn’t been a true measure of the level of substance misuse related need amongst children’s service users. Improvements have already begun in this area. Every Child Matters Change for Children Young People and Drugs is a step in the right direction, as it stresses the importance of the engagement of children’s services in substance misuse support. Key Performance Indicators are suggested that will place a responsibility on children’s services to effectively screen service users for drug and alcohol related need and refer into appropriate specialist support. Pooled budgets and children’s trust structures should also help to foster a multi-agency response to young people’s substance misuse.
How is this affecting the service young drug users get?
If drug and alcohol related need is not effectively identified there is the possibility that young people will not receive the support they need to prevent or reduce substance use. This includes looking at the substance use history of the family. The children of substance using parents are most often overlooked, as reported in Hidden Harm. It is also essential that a young person receives a co-ordinated package of support developed and delivered via multi-agency partnership working. If services are not joined-up at the point of planning and commissioning, this can affect the success of partnership working initiatives.
Is there a danger of specialist substance misuse services getting lost within the wider Every Child Matters agenda and if so how can this be prevented?
Of course and this is why it is essential for young people’s leads in Drug Action Teams to be part of the planning and commissioning structures for children’s services. There is also a need for clarity on how the Key Performance Indicators in Every Child Matters Change for Children Young People and Drugs are going to be implemented. A comprehensive system of monitoring and review needs to be promoted.
The research found that the voluntary sector was involved in the planning of substance misuse services in only 10 areas. What could the consequences of this be and how can the situation be improved?
The voluntary sector has a wealth of experience in the provision of substance misuse services. Consultation with them during the planning and commissioning stage would be an opportunity for the statutory sector to draw on this experience.
It also found that only 10 per cent of services have dedicated provision for children of substance misusing parents. Do you think there many children in this position who are not receiving services?
Hidden Harm demonstrated the need for targeted services for this group. There is a real need for adult substance misuse services and children’s services to identify the needs of this group and link them into appropriate support. However, there is also a real need for the development of appropriate support for these children and their families.
It’s difficult to say. Systems of formal evaluation would help to build a national evidence base for effective substance misuse services for young people. Although there has been a lack of formal evaluation, services have been providing quarterly reports to their commissioners and data to the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System, so this goes some way to help determine the adequacy of the service to meet local need but further evaluation systems are required to build the national evidence base.