Hundreds of babies suffering because of mums’ drug addiction
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