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Children: Drugs

Volume 771: debated on Monday 11 April 2016


Tabled by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to help local authorities fulfil their statutory obligation to safeguard children with respect to preventing the use of controlled drugs.

My Lords, on behalf of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and at her request, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in her name on the Order Paper.

My Lords, nothing is more important than keeping children safe from harm, including from drugs. The Children Act 1989 places a duty on local authorities to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. Social workers assess children’s needs and work with other agencies to provide help and support to meet those needs. Reducing drug misuse is a key part of our evidence-based drug strategy. Education plays an important role in supporting children to make healthy choices.

My Lords, I welcome the sentiment uttered by the Minister. However, is he aware of the testimony of the charity Mentor to the Home Affairs Select Committee:

“We are spending the vast majority of the money we do spend on drug education on programmes that don’t work”?

Given the very serious risks for young people exposed to unscrupulous drug dealers, should the Government not rise to their proper responsibility and ensure that the evidence-based and effective drug education programmes that do exist are provided for every child in every school?

Drug education is a statutory part of the new curriculum for science at key stages 2 and 3. Teachers are best placed to understand the needs of their pupils and it is for them to develop their own PSHE programmes, drawing on resources and evidence-based tools such as ADEPIS, which provides accurate, up-to-date information and resource on what works. In March last year, we published a PSHE review of what works best in drug education and the PSHE Association has an excellent programme of study on drugs.

My Lords, does the PSHE curriculum include comparisons of the health harms of drugs such as alcohol, tobacco, heroin, cocaine and cannabis, including the numbers of people who die every year from their use? If the Minister does not have the figures to hand, I would be grateful if he wrote to me.

My understanding is that this programme of study is very comprehensive, but I will write specifically to the noble Baroness on this.

My Lords, the Minister will be well aware of the importance of work with families, and that there has been a substantial increase in respect of Section 47—child protection—and Section 17, which concerns children in need. I quote the sections to underline the statutory nature of the work for local authorities. We understand that, because of this increase, Section 17 work—the preventive work—is being reduced by local authorities. Is that not just the work that is needed for children living with families where drug abuse is high?

I agree entirely with the noble Baroness’s sentiments. I will look at what she says about Section 17 and talk to her further about it.

My Lords, the Minister has said that teachers are best placed to take this work forward and to use the resources available. The point being put to him is that those resources are simply not available. What are the Government going to do about it?

I do not agree with the noble Lord. A massive number of programmes are available. The FRANK website receives millions of hits, and Public Health England is about to launch its new online resource for young people, Rise Above. I have already referred to ADEPIS and the PSHE Association, and we have many other resources available for teachers.

My Lords, given that, as the Minister has just said, teachers are best placed to know the needs of their pupils, what are the Government doing to ensure that teachers are properly informed and supported in helping pupils to deal with such issues?

We constantly point teachers, through our online resources, to all these resources. Of course, a very important part of our initial teacher training—ITT—is safeguarding, which I think is point seven in Teachers’ Standards.

My Lords, on the point that has just been made, a former American drug chief, General McCaffrey, coined the phrase “Prevent tomorrow’s market” as the theme of all the education that should be given in schools, but he found that unfortunately there was a lack of skilled teachers who were able to make the point. Therefore, it is very important that any programme is accompanied by the resources; namely, the people who can actually get the point across. Is the Minister satisfied that there are sufficient people with the knowledge and ability to carry out that task in our schools?

The noble Lord makes a very good point. In view of the fact that this point has been made by a number of people, I will look at it in detail and write to him about it.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that children who live in households where there is much drug use are at risk not only from the drugs but of becoming young carers for their parents, who are addicted? What is the Government’s policy on helping those young carers?

The noble Baroness makes an extremely good point. Certainly, this is something I have seen on a number of occasions. Last month we launched a new campaign—“Together, we can tackle child abuse”—to encourage members of the public to report child abuse and neglect and just this kind of situation. I hope this has some effect on the point the noble Baroness makes.

My Lords, will the Minister enlarge on the obligations on teachers in schools that are not required to deliver the national curriculum, and the Government’s expectations of them?

All teachers are required to keep their children safe. Our expectations are just the same across all schools.