English drugs strategy attacked for failing to help children of misusers

England has fallen behind the rest of the UK on supporting the children of drug misusers, according to a major report.

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs study expresses disappointment that the government has failed to introduce a cross-departmental approach to the issue in England, unlike the rest of the UK.

And it criticises the English drugs strategy for focusing on the children of problem drug users only in terms of their increased risk of becoming users themselves, and not in terms of safeguarding their welfare.

It says the “increasing emphasis in England on drug-related crime as the main form of ‘harm’ which the strategy is designed to reduce” has resulted in the children of clients being neglected.

The report is an overview of the progress made in implementing the 48 recommendations in the council’s 2003 Hidden Harm report, which made “a significant impact on policy and practice”.

Hidden Harm revealed that up to 350,000 children in the UK were being harmed by their parents’ drug use. It suggested the children’s national service framework and its Scottish and Welsh equivalents should identify these children as a special group that required specific action by health, education and social services, and said drug action teams should ensure that supporting users’ children was an essential part of their area strategies.

However, the follow up report finds that the emerging picture in England of joint planning and commissioning of services “remains patchy”. By contrast, the strongest planning and commissioning is in Scotland.

The study calls for large-scale training and workforce development in the UK and suggests a need for dedicated local services for children of problem drug users.

Drugs information charity Drugscope said the report highlighted “worrying gaps and inconsistencies”, particularly in England.

Chief executive Martin Barnes said: “It speaks volumes that knowledge of parental substance misuse is still not a compulsory training requirement for social workers, many of whom are working on the front line of this issue every day.”

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  Simeon Brody



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