Life it tough and we all use substances to feel better from time to time. We might have a glass of wine (or two) at the end of a hard day. A coffee to pick us up in the morning. Yet Scottish statistics released in the last few weeks suggest it is tougher for some. Over 2500 people died last year from alcohol specific or drug related deaths. Drug related deaths have increased substantially over the past few decades, and alcohol specific deaths have generally risen since 2012, and even faster during the covid restrictions. Those in Scotland’s most deprived areas are 5.6 times more likely to experience an alcohol-specific death and 15.3 times more likely to have a drug related death compared to the least deprived. These statistics make it clear that poverty-related health and wellbeing inequalities are leaving under-supported communities in dire circumstances.
These deaths are not remote to the children and young people includem supports, many of whom live in some of Scotland’s most deprived areas. One young person, who is overcoming his own challenge with addiction, told us “My pal had an overdose and they tried to say he deserved it because he was a junky but he wasnae, he was off smack and kit and everything. Once after having his methadone, he had a couple of Valium and died in his sleep. The boy across the road, his sisters not long just died and all from an overdose. All sorts of folk are dying.”
Includem’s priority is to help children, young people and families make positive, sustainable changes to build a better life. How can we ensure the children we support now are not the fatalities of the future? Who should answer this question? It is not politicians, service designers or even our hard-working teams out there delivering support. It is the children and young people we support.
For too long services have been designed by those delivering services, not by those who use them. Children and young people are often not asked, often viewed victims, passive recipients of services or as adults of the future, rather than rights holders now.
This thinking is pervasive at all levels with various reports and documents talking about needing to change things for children as they are the adults of the future. For example, the most recent Scottish Government Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan speaks about preventing children “from becoming parents of children in poverty in the future” rather than actively being impacted now.
Young people experiencing challenges with addictions and coming into conflict with the law are even less likely to be asked as somehow, we think their behaviour takes away their right to have a say. Yet children’s human rights are inalienable and unconditional.
What would services look like if they were based on children’s rights?
Children have a right to have a say in all matters that affect them and for their views to be given due weight. They should be involved in all aspects of service design, delivery, evaluation, and improvement.
However, if we want to prevent drug and alcohol deaths in the future, then services need to deliver more than just their right to participate. We need services which respect children’s right to life and survival by ensuring they get the help they need when they need it. We need to respect their right to the best possible health. We need a standard of living that is good enough to support their development. We need to support them to take part in a wide range of activities to learn new skills and make connections. We need to give them the space to recover from trauma. We will only prevent future deaths by delivering services that recognise and respect children as rights holders now.
Currently includem is co-designing our new BRAVE service in Stirling with young people with expertise by experience, learning from them about what would help others facing similar challenges to reduce substance misuse and achieve ‘A Better Life’.
Young people tell us that they want activities in their local community which help them beat boredom, they want relationship-based support which sees them as a whole person, not just their presenting challenge, they want support for their whole family, they want support that does not punish them for making mistakes but instead focusses on building on their strengths.
As one young person wisely told us….
“Loads of people take drugs to feel better, to get it done, so you don’t feel sh*te. Give them something to do, the gym, the youth club, they should be able to work. Come and see us all the time, don’t just come once a month and do a check-up, have set sh*t to do, don’t put it at the end of school time. People with experience should be able to work with them, but it’s hard for them to get jobs. Someone who has changed their life should speak to them, tell them about their own troubles. See if they were to tell you, you wouldn’t feel as bad.”
A shorter version of this article featured in The Herald Scotland’s Agenda feature on Saturday 13th August. You can read that version here.