Page last updated at 16:11 GMT, Tuesday, 3 March 2009

The children who live with drugs

Brandon Muir was only 23 months old when he was killed by the boyfriend of his drug-addicted mother.

BBC Scotland's home affairs correspondent Reevel Alderson reports on the children who are living with drugs.

Brandon Muir
Brandon Muir died in hospital on 16 March last year

The statistics are shocking and bleak - and they reveal the human consequences of Scotland's drugs epidemic.

Glasgow University has estimated that between 40,000 and 50,000 children live with at least one drug-addicted parent.

The number of children removed from their own home because they are being neglected is rising.

And, according to a report seen by BBC Scotland, 30% of those taken into emergency care in Edinburgh are newly born.

The report, produced by Scotland's Children's Reporter Administration (SCRA) but not published outside the organisation, examined the cases of children in Edinburgh made the subject of a Place of Safety Warrant - an emergency removal from their own home.

In 2006-07, just over 60% were under 24 weeks old, and a further 30% were newly born. Warrants were issued by a Children's Hearing because, in 80% of cases, the baby was feared to be in danger of neglect.

Ruth Stark
Ruth Stark said social workers "must take drastic action"

Sadly, this is a familiar picture for social workers across Scotland. Ruth Stark, spokesperson for the British Association of Social Workers, says her colleagues must make an assessment about whether a child can not safely remain at home.

"For young mothers and fathers who are already addicted to drugs, often we find ourselves having to go into a situation where this is a key issue that is interfering with their ability to look after their children. In some circumstances, we have to take drastic action," she said.

A Place of Safety Warrant follows a Children's Hearing called to address emergency or high-risk situations, and allows measures to be put into place immediately to protect a vulnerable child.

They only last three weeks - although after investigation children can be placed in care away from the family home.

The Principal Reporter of the SCRA, Netta MacIver, said drug-dependency was not by itself a ground for concern.

Netta MacIver
Netta MacIver said the basics could be challenging for some parents

But she added: "If there's a degree of chaos in the household, then the basics of feeding, changing, cleaning - the repetitiveness of a lot of that is quite often challenging, so you can have ancillary supports.

"But if there are behaviours within the parents which aren't moderated, then the risks will continue."

Brandon Muir is the latest in a series of tragic cases in which drugs, alcohol or the chaotic lives of adults have led to the death of a young child.

There are a number of projects around Scotland which aim to help parents to better care for their children, while also coping with their own problems.

Andrew Horne, director of Addaction in Linthouse in Glasgow, said it was vital that drug or alcohol-dependent parents were given help - not just for them, but for all of us.

CHILDREN LIVING WITH DRUGS
40-50,000 live with addict
1,917 have been removed from home
30% are new-born

"People don't see that this has a huge impact both on our resources in terms of our taxpayers, but also on our communities.

"If we can help children stay safe and happy, and in families, then we are not paying for children to be in care systems, to be in foster care, being involved in social work."

There are controversial solutions to this problem. Duncan McNeil, Labour MSP for Greenock and Inverclyde, has suggested administering contraception with addicts' methadone to prevent them having children.

A new inquiry, under the former chief constable of Fife, Peter Wilson, is now to be held to learn lessons from the Brandon Muir case.

Perhaps the real question to be asked is how does society cope with children brought up in the midst of Scotland's drugs epidemic?

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