Girls warned off Kate

28th April 2006 at 01:00
'Supermodel is bad example,' pupils told, amid calls for more drug treatment centres for children. Nicola Porter reports Teenage girls are being taught not to copy supermodel Kate Moss as new figures for Wales reveal the shocking extent of cocaine use among pupils.

A report from the Welsh Assembly reveals that 30 per cent of all alcohol and drug referrals for girls aged 15 to 19 were for cocaine addiction last year. Just 13 per cent of referrals for a coke habit were for boys in the same age group.

Figures released by the Home Office last month also claim one in 50 children aged 11 to 15 in the UK have experimented with cocaine - now known in the playground as "zip" and "tickets".

However, children's charity Barnardo's Cymru says despite the worrying figures, there are not enough rehabilitation centres in Wales to fight child drug abuse. They say present services are geared towards adults, meaning young drug-users do not receive the best treatment.

Cocaine has until recently been associated with high-flying professionals and celebrities. However, falling street values mean school-aged children can now afford it.

Prevention programmes aimed at key stage 4 pupils now use waif-like Ms Moss as a bad role model. The catwalk star entered a rehabilitation clinic after pictures were published, allegedly showing her snorting cocaine with ex-lover Pete Doherty.

The possible criminal consequences of Kate Moss's alleged substance misuse forms part of an educational programme by the Get Sorted team in Rhondda Cynon Taf.

Co-ordinator Vicky Jenkins said: "Kate Moss as a bad model is something we discuss as part of our programme with older pupils.

"However, much of our present work is with younger pupils - prevention is better than cure."

The new figures on young people's drug use were released as part of a continuing review by the Welsh Assembly's social justice and regeneration committee.

They reveal that just as many teenage girls in Wales received treatment for cocaine abuse as women in their 20s and 30s. They also show more girls aged 15 to 19 were treated for alcohol, heroin and amphetamine abuse than boys.

Barnardo's Cymru director Raymond Ciborowski said the Assembly government should now fund children's charities to fight drug abuse at the frontline.

He said: "Given the dearth of treatment centres for young people, we also want to work with partner agencies and adult centres to develop appropriate specialist services.

"We have expertise in working with children and young people, and know the approaches that are likely to work best with them."

Heledd Hayes, education officer at the National Union of Teachers Cymru, called the figures both sad and shocking. She said they exposed a hidden problem of growing drug dealing in schools.

She added: "Schools and teachers are left in a difficult situation. Schools don't want to admit they have a drugs problem and they fear being named and shamed.

"However, they also have to be seen to be pro-active in tackling problems.

Teachers also have to be able to recognise the signs of drug misuse and dealing."

According to the figures, most of the drug referrals in the 15 to 19 age group were for cannabis use by boys (43 per cent).

But there were more girls treated for harder drug use in the same period.

In all, 8.9 per cent of referrals were for heroin use by girls aged 15 to 19, more than 5 percentage points higher than boys the same age.

In the under-15 age group most referrals were for female cannabis users (14 per cent), followed by female under-age drinkers (2.9 per cent).

The substance misuse review urges children's commissioner Peter Clarke to investigate the "limited" services available for those with a problem.

A substance misuse worker has been seconded from the Assembly to help Barnardo's develop its own in-house expertise.

* nicola.porter@tes.co.uk

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