Select Committee on Home Affairs Memoranda


Submitted by the Drug Education Forum (DEF)

  The Drug Education Forum (DEF) welcomes the increased funding of £152 million over three years for education and prevention activities and treatment for children and young people. It is very important that the money is invested wisely and results in improvements at local level. Realistic targets need to be developed and agreed for measuring effectiveness of activities and success in achieving targets in the National Drug Strategy.

  This paper is divided into two areas: (1) Existing drug policy (2) Drugs and the law. It has been produced specifically for the Home Affairs Committee Inquiry.


  There are four main areas which the Forum has identified for consideration with regard to existing drug policy.

a.  Children and young people's participation

  DEF is delighted that government have expressed a commitment to children and young people's participation through the National Healthy School Standard, in the development of the Children's National Service Framework and in the DfES White Paper Schools Achieving Success. However, DEF is disappointed that no plans have been announced to involve children and young people in the review of the National Drugs Strategy.

  The children and young people that DEF consulted said that they felt valued and listened to as a result of the opportunities to participate. Children and young people are more likely to engage in drug education activities and develop a sense of ownership if they feel there is a genuine interest and commitment to listening to their views and ensuring policy and practice reflects their needs. It will also help to ensure that policy is developed which children and young people welcome.


    —  Funding from government to enable national and local organisations and programmes to fulfil their commitment to involving all children and young people effectively in policy and practice development. Also, to support ongoing and sustainable consultation with children and young people.

b.  Public health agenda

  The public health agenda should be a shared responsibility across government departments, not just Department of Health (DH). A clear, strong and effective leadership of the public health and joint decision making processes across government is needed.

  DEF is concerned that an emphasis on drugs being a criminal justice issue may result in a failure to see it as a public health issue. Subsequently drug education could become a low priority and children and young people will not receive their entitlement to drug education. Also, vulnerable groups will be at greater risk because of lack of access to effective education and support.

  A deeper philosophy and understanding of children's personal social development should be reflected in drug policy. Our work with children and young people indicates that they do not think about drugs in a vacuum but relate it to other issues and concerns in their lives. It is important that drug policy reflects this and that drugs is integrated within national children and young people's strategies and initiatives. DEF welcomes the announcement of a Children's National Service Framework and hope that drug education will be an integral part of it, within the context of children's health, learning and development.

  Existing planning mechanisms such as Drug Action Teams (DATs)/National Healthy School Standard (NHSS) can work together to deliver targets and ensure that drug targets are integrated throughout local plans and policies. The NHSS could continue to ensure that effective Local Authority and Health Authority partnerships are developed. DATs have a crucial role in ensuring that local funds are used wisely to develop education activities and services for children and young people.


    —  Monitoring the impact of the Home Office lead on national drug policy.

    —  Develop a shared understanding and commitment across government to their contributions to public health.

    —  Identify and integrate drug targets in national initiatives that have a focus on children and young people at government level.

    —  To support local policy makers, coordinators and practitioners to engage actively with Local Strategic Partnerships, helping them understand and develop links across the range of initiatives and plans being delivered locally and to contribute to local partnership accreditation for example through the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit.

c.  Unrealistic outcomes for drug education

  Historically government has prioritised health outcomes for drug education without recognising the complexities this presents. For example, targets to "reduce the proportion of people under 25 reporting the use of Class "A" drugs by 25 per cent". The targets in the national drugs strategy for measuring success in relation to drug education are treatment outcomes, not education ones.

  Ancedotal evidence gathered from our discussions with teachers and other practitioners indicates that the lack of consensus about the purpose of drug education is confusing and overburdening for them and consequently makes it difficult for them to develop effective mechanisms for monitoring and evaluating drug education.

  Drug education (within the context of children and young people's health, learning and development) holds important education value. Practitioners need support to enable them to effectively measure what children and young people learn:

  Has their knowledge and understanding increased? Including, do they know where they can go for help? What skills have they developed? Have they developed an understanding of their own and others attitudes and how these impact on the decisions they make? Have their levels of confidence and esteem improved?

  This learning can be measured and it is a good indicator of whether children and young people feel prepared for future situations that may arise and contributes to the development of an evidence base on effective drug education.

  It is important that government consult and involve key stakeholders, policy makers, local coordinators and practitioners so that the planned cross-departmental longitudinal study into the effectiveness of drug education (Blueprint) is of use at a local level.


    —  National review of the aims of drug education.

    —  To disseminate outcomes nationally and secure local understanding and support of key partners.

d.  Range of substances covered

  The Drugs Strategy has a focus on reducing the use of Class "A" drugs, however other legal drugs such as alcohol, volatile substances and solvents also need to be addressed. This focus reinforces the media's sensationalism of Class "A" drug use and continues the stigmatisation of young people and adults that use Class "A" drugs as "junkies". The focus on Class "A" drugs fails to acknowledge the links between legal and illegal drug use and means that children and young people are less likely to get information on the drugs that they hear about or come into contact with the most such as alcohol, volatile substances and solvents.


    —  Review on how the strategy will make links with other legal drugs such as alcohol, tobacco, volatile substances and solvents, steroids and medicines, including the misuse of prescribed medication.


a.  Review of the misuse of drugs act 1971

  The publication of the Police Foundation report on the Independent Inquiry into the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and the Royal College of Psychiatrists and Physicians report Drugs, Dilemmas and Choices offered a valuable opportunity for discussing sensibly and openly the implications of the Misuse of Drugs Act on children and young people's lives.

  For example those young people who receive a criminal record for possession of drugs may as a result experience difficulty in pursuing their education and career goals. The law also presents obstacles for practitioners in meeting the needs of children and young people. For example, teachers who are entering the profession now are perhaps more likely to have taken illegal drugs. Some teachers tell us that they feel uncomfortable in discussing drugs with pupils because they have engaged in illegal drug use. Subsequently the quality of drug education is effected and pupils feel less able to approach them with their question or concerns.

b.  Cannabis legalisation/decriminalisation

  Statistical data on young people's drug use indicates that cannabis is their third major drug of choice (after tobacco and alcohol). A MORI poll with young people carried out as part of the Independent Inquiry into the Misuse of Drugs Act indicates that they do not regard the law as a major deterrent to their drug use. We must be committed to seeking the best situation for our children and young people and engage with them in the debate. Also, consider and discuss the implications for adults who care for and work with children and young people if cannabis was decriminalised/legalised.


    —  A national debate on the drug laws, including the issues around cannabis legalisation/decriminalisation, informed by a review of the evidence and consultations with children and young people.

  The Drug Education Forum (DEF), based at the National Children's Bureau (NCB), is working for the provision of effective drug education for all children and young people. The Forum brings together a range of national organisations from health, education, police and voluntary sector that deliver or support the delivery of drug education. Through the Forum, members from 32 national organisations work together to develop policy and practice in drug education. The Forum is a national authority on drug education and unique in that it is the only organisation that brings together a broad range of organisations to develop and maintain consensus about the nature and scope of drug education.

September 2001

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