Havens call for children of addicts

Kay Smith

AN estimated 20,000 children of drug addict parents should have "safe havens" where they can be helped with school work, Glasgow University researchers recommend.

The proposal from the Centre for Drugs Misuse Research follows the admission of 30 drug addicts that their habit resulted in "serious neglect".

"Household routines such as meal time and bed times, taking the children to and from school had all suffered as a result of the parents' focus on sustaining their drug misuse," Paying the Price for Their Parents' Addiction: Meeting the Needs of the Children of Drug Using Parents states.

Being "exposed to illegal drug use on an everyday basis within their own homes, being taken on journeys with their parents as they sought to buy drugs" was a commonplace experience as was the "risk of violence, physical abuse and family break up".

Professor Neil McKeganey, lead researcher, said: "Education is one of the first things to be affected in such circumstances. These children will not have structured routines and they are not likely to turn up in school.

"They should have another environment where they can get some respite care from home. These safe havens do not have to be residential, nor should they have a complex system of referral. Instead there should be a place where the children can go on a regular basis and where they can get regular meals and assistance with their school work."

The provision of play and fun activities would be an important element. "Research evidence shows that the older children are, the harder it is to compensate for difficulties in their upbringing, so the havens should be accessible to very young children," Professor McKeganey said.

But he warned against "stigmatising" such families. One option was an increase in play centres within deprived housing schemes "with a subtext for supporting children of drug addict parents".

Alistair Ramsay, chief executive of Scotland Against Drugs, said: "In schools, the only mechanism to spot children who are being brought up by drug addicts is the guidance system. If the class teacher asks directly the child will have some covering excuse."

Professor McKeganey backs Scottish Executive moves to draw up guidelines that would pressure drug agencies into disclosing information. "Otherwise children are falling through the net. It is clear they are being left to live in desperate circumstances," he said.

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Kay Smith

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