Hun­dreds of ba­bies suf­fer­ing be­cause of mums’ drug ad­dic­tion

The Sunday Post (Inverness) - - NEWS -

head of Scot­land’s com­mu­nity jus­tice pro­grammes has told how get­ting one of­fender back on track can help trans­form the lives of their fam­i­lies and friends.

Karyn Mc­cluskey said find­ing jobs for peo­ple with con­vic­tions can trans­form their lives – and the lives of their chil­dren.

The pos­i­tive ef­fects then rip­ple out­wards as peo­ple break free from the cy­cle of crime and in­spire oth­ers to fol­low suit, ac­cord­ing to the head of Com­mu­nity Jus­tice Scot­land. Ms Mc­cluskey – the co-founder of Po­lice Scot­land’s Vi­o­lence Re­duc­tion Unit where their idea of treat­ing vi­o­lence and crime as an in­fec­tion has in­spired re­cent po­lice pro­grammes in Lon­don – said: “When we get peo­ple to work we set them free.

“Get­ting one per­son a job has a halo ef­fect. It af­fects their part­ner, their mum and dad, their chil­dren.

“The pos­i­tive ef­fect will make things bet­ter for their kids.

“You can’t sen­tence their kids to the same lives that they have had. Even now I see fam­i­lies where the kids are go­ing down the same path be­cause we fail to pre­vent it.

“Peo­ple need their lives to have pur­pose.

“Their lives need to be pre­dictable, un­der­stand­able and to have a sense of hope.” This week Com­mu­nity Jus­tice Scot­land launched a cam­paign called Sec­ond Chancers aimed at chang­ing peo­ple’s per­cep­tions of non-cus­to­dial sen­tences. It fea­tures peo­ple with crim­i­nal records talk­ing about how they were sup­ported in turn­ing their lives around.

Most have strug­gled to find em­ploy­ment and have also faced “shame and hu­mil­i­a­tion” as a re­sult of com­mit­ting crime. The chal­lenges of re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing of­fend­ers also in­clude “tall poppy syn­drome” and so­ci­ety’s view of jus­tice as purely “puni­tive”. Ms Mc­cluskey, a foren­sic psy­chol­o­gist, pi­o­neered the con­cept of treat­ing crime as a pub­lic health is­sue when she and De­tec­tive Chief Su­per­in­ten­dent John Carnochan set up the VRU in 2005 at Strath­clyde Po­lice.

She said: “If you think of crime as in­fec­tious then if you haven’t got measles but you are some­where where every­one has measles, the chances of you get­ting in­fected again are so high. There’s a pull ef­fect to bring you back down and we don’t re­ally cel­e­brate suc­cess. “Mis­ery loves com­pany, and it’s eas­ier not to change.”

She said ad­dic­tion is of­ten at the heart of of­fend­ers’ be­hav­iour and can­not be cured by pun­ish­ment. She added drink and drug abuse also of­ten has its roots in child­hood trauma or up­heaval, mean­ing it is vi­tal to stop it pass­ing down through gen­er­a­tions.

She said: “You can’t pun­ish peo­ple out of drugs.

“Be­ing ad­dicted to drugs is enough of a pun­ish­ment.

“Al­low­ing them to re­pay their debt to so­ci­ety is mas­sively im­por­tant.

“Peo­ple are talk­ing about how they won’t get into em­ploy­ment be­cause they have con­vic­tions, yet we are des­per­ate for peo­ple to work.

“The ‘oth­eri­sa­tion’ of peo­ple, the ‘them and us’, is the worst thing. Most peo­ple are only a hand­ful of pay cheques away from home­less­ness.

“It doesn’t take much to be­come home­less, end up sofa surf­ing, drink a bit of wine to cope then a bit more.

“We think of ‘those peo­ple’ but there is no them and us, there’s only us. We wait un­til peo­ple are bro­ken be­fore we try to fix them. It’s bonkers.

“Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion is like the am­bu­lance at the bot­tom of the cliff. I would rather pre­vent it be­fore it hap­pens.” Malky, from Ed­in­burgh, served a short sen­tence af­ter com­mit­ting drug-re­lated crimes. He now works at the cen­tre which helped him give up drugs nine years ago. He said: “No­body wakes up and de­cides to be a crim­i­nal. I’m a mil­lion miles away from that per­son now.”

– Karyn Mc­cluskey, Com­mu­nity Jus­tice Scot­land

Nearly 800 ba­bies were born suf­fer­ing the ef­fects of their mother’s drug ad­dic­tion in the past three years in Scot­land – with ex­perts warn­ing the true toll is likely to be higher.

New fig­ures show 774 ba­bies were recorded as af­fected by ad­dic­tion or suf­fer­ing with­drawal symp­toms from drugs be­tween 2014 and 2017. The drugs pass from mother to foe­tus through the blood­stream, re­sult­ing in ba­bies suf­fer­ing a range of with­drawal symp­toms af­ter birth and de­vel­op­men­tal de­lays in child­hood.

Con­sul­tant neona­tol­o­gist Dr He­len Mac­tier, hon­orary sec­re­tary of the Bri­tish As­so­ci­a­tion of Peri­na­tal Medicine, said there was a “hid­den” num­ber of women who took drugs in preg­nancy and vary­ing def­i­ni­tions of drug mis­use in preg­nancy which meant fig­ures were likely to be an un­der­es­ti­mate.

She said: “The prob­lem largely in Scot­land is opi­oid with­drawal – heroin and methadone. “The baby with­draws from these sub­stances and they are very ir­ri­ta­ble, cross, un­happy chil­dren who can be quite dif­fi­cult to feed un­til they fi­nally get over the with­drawal.”

Dr Mac­tier said at birth the ba­bies were usu­ally small, and had small heads and vis­ual prob­lems. She added there is ev­i­dence they suf­fer de­vel­op­men­tal de­lays in early child­hood.

The fig­ures, re­vealed in a writ­ten par­lia­men­tary an­swer, show an in­crease of 80% in cases from the three-year pe­riod from 2006-9, when 427 ba­bies were born with the con­di­tion.

How­ever, it said the data over time should be treated with cau­tion as there has been an im­prove­ment in record­ing drug mis­use.

The high­est num­bers over the past three years were recorded in Grampian, which had 169 cases. Glas­gow had 137 cases, while Tay­side recorded 90, La­nark­shire 78 and Loth­ian 72. Num­bers have been drop­ping since 2011-14, when a peak of 1,073 cases were recorded.

Dr Mac­tier, who works at Glas­gow’s Princess Royal Ma­ter­nity Hospi­tal, said hav­ing to treat ba­bies born ad­dicted to drugs was be­com­ing less com­mon in re­cent years.

She said: “The num­bers are com­ing down, but we are not sure why. It is partly be­cause women who use drugs in­tra­venously tend to be older, so are be­com­ing too old to have chil­dren.”

How­ever, she pointed out one con­tro­ver­sial area was sta­bil­is­ing preg­nant ad­dicts on heroin sub­sti­tutes such as methadone.

She added: “That may be good for the mum, to keep her more sta­ble and out of crim­i­nal­ity. It is not en­tirely clear if that is safe for the ba­bies, so we need more re­search.”

Scot­tish Con­ser­va­tive health spokesman Miles Briggs, who ob­tained the fig­ures, said: “It’s a na­tional tragedy that we see such num­bers of ba­bies be­ing born re­quir­ing drug de­pen­dency sup­port – we need to see ac­tion to help pre­vent this harm oc­cur­ring.”

Martin Crewe, di­rec­tor of Barnardo’s Scot­land, said: “We know how im­por­tant it is for chil­dren to get a good start in life. We would like to see no ba­bies born re­quir­ing drug de­pen­dency sup­port.”

Karyn Mc­cluskey pic­tured in Ed­in­burgh last week

Al­most 800 ba­bies had drug is­sues in last three years

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