Substance Abuse

Together members: The Corra Foundation with Circle Scotland

UNCRC Article 33 (drug abuse)

Governments must protect children from the illegal use of drugs and from being involved in the production or distribution of drugs.

 “No child wants to be around adults who are smoking, drinking alcohol or taking drugs.”

What Kind of Scotland? Children’s Parliament (pg. 34).

 “With mum drinking all the time, there were always people in and out of the house — 90% of them I really didn’t like. She’d let people stay over and fights would break out. It was difficult. My main priority was my younger brother — I constantly had to make sure he was okay and out of harm’s way. Although my mum was usually in the middle of what was going on, she seemed to keep herself out of trouble.

Most nights I would be lucky if I got any sleep. I’d get my brother ready for bed and asleep before attempting the same with mum. When she was drinking it was a lot more difficult. If she was passed out I would have to physically drag her through the house to get her changed for bed. Then, it was the case of keeping her in bed until she passed out. It wasn’t uncommon for her to get violent or abusive while this was happening but most of the time she would just be pouring her heart out, looking for sympathy, before eventually falling asleep.

At the age of six I was the main carer and had to learn to be an adult.

By the time I was seven my mother was taking heroin. In a way the drugs were better than the alcohol. When she was on the drugs she would doze off regularly but I could wake her if I wanted too. She might be mumbling but if you shook her enough you would eventually get out of her what she was trying to say. On heroin she was mellow, no mood swings or lashing out. She wasn’t falling all over the place and I could have her in bed at a reasonable time although, I was constantly scanning for drug paraphernalia lying around, in case my brother got a hold of it.

Instead of going to school I was learning how to rig the electric meter, hide drugs or alcohol and shop for necessities.

At seven and a half I went into hospital for surgery. When I got out, I was to use a wheelchair for six weeks, followed by crutches and physio to strengthen me and ensure everything healed properly. Unfortunately, less than six weeks after I got out my mother was back to her usual ways with drugs and alcohol. This meant I had to return to my parental role. I was the carer even when I needed to be cared for myself. This had an effect on me physically, resulting in permanent damage because I came out of the wheelchair early, didn’t use crutches or do physio. In a way it makes me angry. If I had a mum that wasn’t an addict then I would have had the support and a simple operation would have fixed itself. Now I am facing a number of operations as I go through life. My mother’s drug and alcohol abuse affected me physically and mentally.”

(Gemma, a young person)

Between 40,000–60,000 children and young people in Scotland are affected by parental drug use and an estimated 36,000-51,000 children are affected by alcohol abuse. These children are vulnerable to multiple violations of their UNCRC rights, including facing an increased risk of being exposed to violence, living in poverty, missing out on school and education and feeling unloved and neglected. The Corra Foundation’s ‘Everybody Has a Story’ project set out to highlight the importance of listen to what these children and young people had to say about their experiences.

While measures to support parents through recovery are available, children are often overlooked. Many children report a wariness or fear of speaking to professionals due to past negative experiences.  They fear being separated from their siblings if they report their parent’s behaviour or that they will not be believed or listened to, often after past experiences of not being taken seriously by professionals.

Many initiatives to support parents through recovery stop once the parent is considered ‘stable’.  This can mean that children are not given the long-term support needed to deal with the change in their family dynamics and everyday experiences.

Steps are being taken to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of children who are affected by parental substance misuse.  In 2013, Scottish Government published ‘Getting Our Priorities Right’ which provides practice guidance for those working with children and young people affected by parental substance misuse.  Scottish Government has also continued to fund the Partnership Drugs Initiative (PDI) which supports voluntary projects and organisations working to promote and support families through recovery from substance abuse.  However, more needs to be done, including improving data-gathering so that we know how many children and young people are affected by the issue.

The UNCRC is clear that all children have the right to have their opinion heard in all matters affecting them, the right to protection from all forms of violence including neglect or negligent treatment and the right to recovery and support from trauma.  Incorporating the UNCRC into Scots Law would help to provide the additional push needed to ensure that children affected by parental substance abuse are not overlooked by adult-focussed services and are provided with the specific support services that they need.


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