The government has launched its drug strategy, Reducing Demand, Restricting Supply, Building Recovery.
As promised in the consultation there is a section on prevention which is where this briefing will focus.
However, before looking at the detail it is important to be clear that this document is a very different beast to strategies produced by the last government. So where the 2008 strategy weighed in at over 65 pages, today’s is only 25 in total.
Part of the reason for this comes from the different perspective Ministers have of the role of government from their predecessors. There is a strong sense that target driven approaches need to be abandoned in favour of localisation.
The new strategy sets two broad aims against which the government want to be held accountable. These are to:
- Reduce illicit and other harmful drug use; and
- Increase the numbers recovering from their dependence.
What the strategy doesn’t do is to set out how much they want to reduce drug use or how many addicts should be in recovery.
Turning to the specifics of what it says about children and young people in the chapter on demand reduction there is a strong recognition of the importance of the earliest years, which will receive support through an additional 4,200 health visitors and one of the few national programmes retained by the government; the Family Nurse Partnership.
Education and Information
The next sections are likely to be the most important from our perspective. The strategy is clear about the value of universal drug education, arguing:
All young people need high quality drug and alcohol education so they have a thorough knowledge of their effects and harms and have the skills and confidence to choose not to use drugs and alcohol.
And it goes on to set out that schools have a clear role in delivering drug prevention which the government see themselves supporting by providing information, advice and support which will enable schools to:
- Provide accurate information through drug education and targeted information using FRANK.
- Use wider search powers to tackle problem behaviours in school, and to tackle drug dealing in schools.
- Work with the local voluntary sector and police to prevent drug and alcohol misuse.
The government go on to promise to do two specific things, they say they will share teaching materials and lesson plans from successful schools and organisations online and promote effective practice.
This will be supported by revised (and simplified) guidance on how schools can help prevent drug and alcohol use.
The government continue to see a role for Healthy Schools in improving the health and wellbeing of pupils, but as we know this will be led by schools rather than resourced and monitored by central government.
The strategy recognises that with statutory education and training being extended until 18 there is a need for colleges and indeed universities to provide information and advice to the young people in their care.
The government clearly continue to see FRANK playing a central role in providing information and advice to children, young people and their families. They say:
FRANK was one of the first Government campaigns to adopt a behavioural model, which has been successfully used, both to inform campaign development and as a framework for evaluation, over the life of this strategy we will continue to enhance this approach. Through the FRANK service, everyone, at any age, will have accurate and reliable information on the effects and harms of drugs, including new substances.
The strategy makes clear that some young people are more at risk of drug problems than others and that these groups may need targeted support, which they believe are best developed at a local level, “supported by consistent national evidence and advice on effective approaches.”
They suggest that they have simplified funding for local authorities to include a single Early Intervention Grant worth £2 billion by 2014-15. However, it is clear that this budget is expected to deliver well beyond the issues set out in this strategy, and is not ring-fenced in any way.
Nonetheless, the strategy argues:
Sitting alongside the Public Health Grant, this will allow local areas to take a strategic approach to tackling drug and alcohol misuse as part of wider support to vulnerable young people and families.
Young People’s Treatment
The section on treatment services for young people says that those who need it will “have rapid access to specialist support that tackles their drug and alcohol misuse alongside any wider issues that they face.”
Treatment should have the aim of reducing the harms and preventing young people to go on to become drug dependent adults.
Having been used to strategies that set out budgets and actions that central government will take to achieve the aims of their strategies this is new paradigm is a culture shock.
Ministers clearly believe that a light touch, or no touch, on the tiller from central government will be more effective than performance management regimes and the levers that are available to Departments of State.
At the launch event for national stakeholders Anne Milton the Public Health Minister argued that all politicians are seeking to achieve broadly the same ends when it comes to drug policy; and that when things don’t work it’s not for lack of political will it’s because the route to achieving the aims was wrong.
Time will tell whether the strategy of allowing for much more local flexibility in developing education and prevention outcomes will prove to be one of those wrong turnings or a path to improved public health.
About this blog
This blog tries to pick up relevant media and research stories about drug education. It mainly focuses on information in England as this is the geographical remit for the Drug Education Forum. We welcome comments that are on topic.
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- Research Digest
- Nice teachers and playground fights
- Moving research into practice – recognising the issues of adaptation
- Case Study: PSHE education in independent schools