Select Committee on Home Affairs Memoranda


Submitted by the National Children's Bureau (NCB)

  The National Children's Bureau (NCB) works to identify and promote the well-being and interests of all children and young people across every aspect of their lives. It encourages professionals and policy makers to see the needs of the whole child, and emphasises the importance of multidisciplinary, cross-agency partnerships. We also believe that children and young people themselves should play an active role in developing the policies which affect them.

  We endorse the evidence submitted by the Drug Education Forum, which works under the aegis of NCB. NCB itself wishes to focus on four main areas.


  The Children and Young People's Unit is developing Principles for Participation which should be endorsed by Ministers and officials across Government. Children's participation is becoming an accepted part of many Government initiatives including the forthcoming National Service Framework for Children, Quality Protects, DfES support for effective school councils, and the recommendation to consult with children as part of the National Child Care Strategy. The fundamental principle under Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is that children and young people have a right to express a view on issues which may affect them.

  Any scrutiny of the national drugs strategy must include contributions from young people themselves. They are extremely well informed and have a sophisticated understanding as well as immediate experience of the issues. Children and young people are best placed to advise on policies and initiatives which are truly responsive to their own needs, views and opinions—discussions which can increase their understanding of drugs and their usage, helping them to develop skills and attitudes so that they can make informed choices. NCB is pleased to see that the Home Office is encouraging a more open debate on the policing of drugs. We urge the Government to include young people in this discussion.


  NCB believes that any drugs policy must look at both legal and illegal drug use among young people. Risk-taking behaviours among the young are multi-faceted, and need to be jointly considered in the context of their lives within the family and community1,2. A more holistic approach to policy development round drug use is necessary to deal with elements ranging from prevention and education, to health promotion, to treatment—to deal with substance use as a public health rather than just a criminal justice issue. We know that current criminal justice measures do not act as a deterrent to drug use among the young and that these need to be re-evaluated as a matter of urgency. But the current steer from Government—implicit in the transfer of the Anti-Drugs Unit from the Cabinet Office to the Home Office—indicates that drug use is to be considered within the framework of law and order. We believe this is short-sighted. Recreational drug use among the young is common3 so needs to be reviewed within the context of their lives and tackled across Government. For example, NCB recommends that the needs of young people who use drugs be included in the development of the National Service Framework for Children, the Comprehensive Spending Review's cross-cutting review of children at risk, and the delivery of Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) in a variety of settings including Young Offender Institutions (YOIs), supported housing, and of course schools.


  The issue of drug-taking remains too closely linked with the criminal justice system. The potential for community treatment facilities remains under-resourced—especially for under-16s, young people using solvents, and for young women using substances of any kind. Despite treatment targets in the National Drugs Strategy to improve the range and quality of treatment services for under-25s, no explicit reference to the needs of children and young people with regard to drug services was made in Keith Hellawell's Annual Report 2000-2001. We would argue for the creation of explicit targets for treatment services, and an increase in dedicated drug services for children and young people which offer information, guidance and support in a confidential setting on a range of substances including alcohol, controlled drugs, solvents and volatile substances.


  Recently, NCB produced a survey of the second round of Health Improvement Programmes (HImPs) in partnership with the NSPCC, The Children's Society, NCH and Barnardo's4. One of the findings was unsurprising, but of continuing concern. Only limited attention and resources are given to the ways in which parental behaviours can impact on children. Although there is a great deal of attention being paid to smoking, alcohol and drug taking in the various health plans (which of course reflect national guidance), the concern expressed for the children affected by these behaviours is largely confined to unborn babies. The day-to-day consequences for children and young people who live with such parental behaviour patterns are largely ignored, and services remain designed to deal with adults in isolation from their family environments.

  Research evidence shows that the effects of parental alcohol or drug use on family functioning can be profound, and that the children can show their distress in the following ways:

    —  anti-social behaviour or conduct disorder;

    —  problems in school including poor performance, increased aggression or truancy;

    —  psychosomatic problems ranging from bed-wetting to low self-esteem, withdrawal and depression; and

    —  a higher incidence of their own involvement with alcohol and drugs somewhat earlier than their peers.

  Additionally, the child in this home environment is at a higher risk from family violence; martial conflict; separation, divorce and the loss of a parent; and inconsistent or erratic parenting including neglect5.

  NCB recommends that the new drugs strategy highlight the needs of children growing up in these families or those entering the public care system due to parental substance misuse, and that specific strategies be put in place to support them. Children affected by parental substance misuse should be considered as children in need and sometimes as young carers in order to trigger the appropriate assessments and access to services.

September 2001


  1  Green, E, Mitchell, W, and Bunton, R (2000) Contextualizing risk and danger: an analysis of young people's perceptions of risk. Journal of Youth Studies, vol.3, no.2 (Jun). pp. 109-126).

  2  Maggs, J L, and others (1997) Psychosocial resources, adolescent risk behaviour and young adult adjustment: is risk taking more dangerous for some than others? Journal of Adolescence, vol.20, no.1 (Feb). pp. 103-119.

  3  Balding, J (2000) Young people and illegal drugs into 2000. Exeter: Schools Health Education Unit.

  4  Corlyon, J and others (2001) Improving children's health 2: an analysis of Health Improvement Programmes 2000/3. London: NSPCC.

  5  Velleman, R `Parental alcohol and drug problems: an overview', pp233-243, in Gpfert, M, Webster, J and Seeman, MV (ed) (1996) Parental psychiatric disorder: distressed parents and their families. Cambridge University Press.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 20 December 2001