1 June: International Children’s day

Children’s voices — experiences and perceptions of children around drugs and alcohol

A collection of narratives from children on issues of substance use in Europe is released by the EMCDDA today ahead of International Children’s Day (1 June).

Alcohol and drug use in their different forms can have a profound impact on the lives of children. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children should be able to express their views in all matters touching their lives. The purpose of today’s paper — Children’s voices — is to provide a channel for such expression and offer meaning and insight into some of the key drug and alcohol issues affecting children.

Around 60 000 children in Europe today are likely to be living with individuals who are receiving treatment for drug problems. And many more are living with a drug-using parent or others not in contact with treatment services. 

Epidemiological studies routinely collect quantitative data on alcohol and drug use among adults and children,  but far less is published on the qualitative aspects of substance use problems. In this optic, today’s review presents quotations gleaned from interviews with children in 14 European countries. Through these testimonies, the report illustrates how qualitative research can provide glimpses into the experiences, perceptions and vulnerability of children facing drug issues that statistics alone cannot provide.

It is widely recognised that drug policies and interventions for children are enhanced when children’s perspectives are acknowledged and their needs addressed.

The quotations, selected from grey literature (e.g. research studies, governmental and non-governmental reports) give voice to four main issues for children:
•    living with harmful parental drinking or drug taking (neglect, violence, abuse, stigma, shame);
•    being separated from parents and looked after by relatives, foster carers or institutions;
•    experience and perceptions about alcohol and drug consumption; and
•    experience and perceptions about interventions to address alcohol and drug consumption.

Some of the quotations highlighted today are invocations by children for better and more tailored care and for appropriate family support at the right time. Others are simply calls for their views to be heard and their experiences acknowledged.

The testimonies gathered do not claim to represent the situation of all children affected by drugs and alcohol in Europe. They do, however, illustrate an overarching theme: the vulnerability of children from families with substance use problems and the need for interventions that are sensitive and adapted to individual circumstances.

According to the EMCDDA, qualitative research focuses on the meanings, perceptions, processes and context of substance use problems and offers a way to understand and plan responses. As one youth worker puts it:      ‘You need to be able to step into their world and understand what their world is like for them. If workers can’t do that, they can have all the drugs and alcohol knowledge, but they’re not going to be very successful working with that young person’.                                                                                                                                                                                   


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