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Last Updated: Monday, 8 May 2006, 15:47 GMT 16:47 UK
Addicts' children 'to come first'
Boy standing alone
Children of drug addicts are to be given better support and protection
More will be done to help identify children who are at risk in homes with drug-addicted parents even before they are born, ministers have pledged.

First Minister Jack McConnell said the safety of children must come first as he unveiled the Scottish Executive's new policy Hidden Harm - Next Steps.

He said "chaotic" drug abuse was incompatible with effective parenting.

The policy calls for action to improve the identification of youngsters at risk, including at the pregnancy stage.

This would enable support to be given at the earliest possible stage.

Jack McConnell
We must improve how we identify children at risk from this parental substance misuse
Jack McConnell
First Minister

Drug users with children will be assessed so that a decision can be made on their capability as parents.

The strategy also calls for more effective communication and sharing of information between different agencies, such as those dealing with adults and children.

There will also be a new national fostering strategy to care for the greater number of children who are expected to be taken into care.

Until now social workers have concentrated on supporting families to keep vulnerable children at home.

It is estimated that between 40,000 and 60,00 children in Scotland are affected by their parents' drug use.

HIDDEN HARM - NEXT STEPS

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Mr McConnell unveiled the policy on a visit to the Aberlour Project in Edinburgh with Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson.

He said: "These young people are among the most vulnerable in our society.

"They need parents who are looking out for them - not just looking out for the next fix.

"Quite simply, serious and chaotic drug abuse is incompatible with effective parenting. That is why we must improve how we identify children at risk from this parental substance misuse."

Ms Jamieson said the change in approach had come from the professionals themselves, who had recognised more needed to be done to protect vulnerable children.

ACTION NEEDED
Multi-agency assessment of drug users with children
Better communication between agencies
Efforts to break down barriers to sharing information
More effective identification of children at risk
Re-training of staff in child protection
Development of new fostering strategy

"Everyone accepts that taking a child away from its parents is a heart-wrenching decision to make," she said.

"It is a step that should never be taken lightly, but I am convinced that where a child is placed in serious danger by parents who are addicted to drugs, it is the safety of the child that must always come first.

"We are already doing a great deal to make sure we identify those children at risk and make the right decisions on how best to give them the childhood of opportunity they deserve - but we must do more and we must do it better."

She said agencies had to work together better to identify, support and protect children facing the "trauma" of living in a family ruled by drugs or alcohol.

'Comprehensive support'

"By doing so we will not only help them have better childhoods and better life chances, but in the more serious cases, we may well be saving their lives," she said.

A think tank led by Aberlour is preparing to publish a report on children affected by parental substance use, entitled "Have We Got Our Priorities Right?"

Aberlour chief executive Romy Langeland said: "Problem drug and alcohol use does not necessarily mean that someone cannot be a parent, but there has to be comprehensive support from a number of agencies to help the family.

"However, there are times when the impact on the child is so serious that the only option may be to remove the child from home, at least for a period of time."

The Scottish Conservatives welcomed the proposals but accused ministers of failing to look at the bigger picture.

"When the executive cannot even state how many individual rehabilitation places are available in Scotland, and when you consider there is a lack of foster carers available for children to be taken into care, I am worried this report will have little real impact where it is required," said leader Annabel Goldie.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Watch details of the new policy



SEE ALSO:
Drug tests for parents discussed
20 Mar 06 |  Scotland
Child concern over drugs problem
07 Mar 06 |  Scotland
Dead toddler had drunk methadone
05 Mar 06 |  Scotland
McConnell call over heroin girl
18 Feb 06 |  Scotland


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