Children as young as 12 in Bradford have needed specialist treatment to wean them off drink or drugs, a survey has revealed today.
Councils across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland were asked under the Freedom of Information Act to reveal the youngest ages of children who had been treated in their areas for drugs and alcohol misuse.
Elsewhere in West Yorkshire, Calderdale had the youngest referral at the age of ten; in Kirklees the youngest was 11 and in Wakefield, 13. No figure was available for Leeds.
A total of 366 children aged 12 and under were referred for treatment during 2012/13 in England, according to figures released by Public Health England.
Fifty nine per cent of under-13s were given treatment for cannabis misuse, while a third were treated for alcohol misuse. The survey found a child in South Ayrshire aged just four had been referred by education and children’s services to alcohol and drug specialists.
A referral can mean a child is vulnerable to drug and alcohol misuse through exposure from their parents or relatives, or might have started to abuse substances themselves.
Councillor Imran Hussain, deputy leader at Bradford Council, said more was being done to prevent children falling victim to drink and drug problems in the district.
He said: “It is shocking that such young children are at risk of or are already using alcohol or drugs with the potential to have their lives blighted before they even reach their teens.
“The Council invests significant resources to raise awareness of the dangers, identify children at risk and assist young people through a dedicated service.
“We have to make sure that children understand the harm that drugs do and not just treat the issue as one of criminality. We can’t afford to see children consigned to the scrapheap because of drugs when their lives have barely begun.
“We must never be complacent and ultimately we have to address the root causes of the problem and ensure that parents behave responsibly, children are aware and that access to drugs is curtailed.
“If this means doing more in schools and at an earlier age then it has to be given serious consideration by the Government.”
In a bid to curb such statistics, a new national curriculum being introduced in September rules that pupils aged ten and 11 must be taught to “recognise the impact of diet, exercise and drugs and lifestyle on the way their bodies function”.