Growing concern about substance abuse near children

1,420 calls to the helpline came from Scotland in 2013-2016 over the issue.
1,420 calls to the helpline came from Scotland in 2013-2016 over the issue.

More than 1,400 calls have been made to the NSPCC’s helpline over the last three years by people in Scotland concerned about alcohol, drug or other substance abuse around children, the charity has revealed.

Last year alone (2015/16), the charity received 494 contacts from Scotland, a rise from 408 in 2013/2014.

A total of 1,420 calls on substance abuse concerns were made to the helpline from Scotland in the three years from 2013.

Some contacts from Scotland were judged so serious that the charity had to make more than 1,300 referrals in the past three years to external agencies – including police and children’s services – about substance abuse around children. One contact may result in a number of referrals to different agencies.

Across the UK 8,500 contacted the NSPCC helpline last year to describe potential substance misuse amongst adults when children and young people were in their care or nearby. The number is up by 16 per cent since 2013 /14, when just over 7,300 people got in touch.

The helpline is a free and confidential service that adults can contact by phone or online to get advice or share their concerns about a child.

The figures have been released as the UK marks the start of Children of Alcoholics Week, which aims to raise awareness of the problems and suffering associated with parental alcohol problems.

Substance misuse is a significant risk for children and often leads to neglect and abuse. Excessive alcohol consumption or use of drugs inevitably make it difficult for parents to deal with family life and often put pressure on relationships.

Children’s feelings, their relationship with their parents and how they’re looked after are all inevitably affected.

One member of the public got in touch with the NSPCC helpline to report concerns of drug taking in a home also occupied by children. The caller said:

“They have a party going on in the house every weekend; I see lots of people entering and leaving the property and there is a strong smell of drugs lingering in the air when this happens. The children are inside the home when the parties are taking place and I’m becoming worried for their welfare. The mother has a drinking problem and she regularly leaves the children at home on their own too. I don’t want to approach her myself as it may create tension between us. What should I do?”

Another caller got in touch with allegations related to alcohol abuse:

“I feel really sad about what’s happened but I’m concerned about the children. The father of the child lost his partner recently and has since started drinking heavily. He has stopped going to work and isn’t doing much with himself apart from drinking away. I’ve noticed the children aren’t going to school regularly anymore or being fed properly. Most of the furniture in the house is smashed up and I don’t think it’s suitable for children to be living in. I feel really stressed out because I don’t know what to do – please help.”

Matt Forde, national head of service for NSPCC Scotland said: “Drugs and alcohol can have hugely damaging effects around children and it’s clearly troubling to see a rise over time in reports of this problem to our helpline.

“Substance misuse all too often leads to the neglect or abuse of a child and it’s absolutely crucial that we do all we can to stop that. The NSPCC provides services directly to families suffering from these problems to help them overcome them and provide their children with a safe and secure upbringing.

“But everyone has a duty to look out for potential signs of distress and the NSPCC’s helpline is there to provide help and support 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”

The NSPCC in Scotland works with parents battling alcohol and drug addiction and provides services aimed at supporting their recovery.

As well as the helpline, direct services provided include Parents Under Pressure which aims to support parents who are on a drug or alcohol treatment programme. Visiting them at home, the 20-week programme can help them keep their recovery on track and build their strengths as a parent.