By Meg Thomas

LIFE is tough and we all use substances to feel better – a coffee to wake you up or a glass of wine after a hard day. Yet last week’s Scottish statistics suggest it is tougher for some. More than 2,500 people died last year from drug or alcohol-related deaths. These deaths are not remote to the children and young we in the includem youth charity support. One young person, who is overcoming his own challenge with addictions, told us: “My pal had an overdose and they tried to say he deserved it because he was a junky but he wasnae, he was off smack and kit and everything. Once after having his methadone, he had a couple of Valium and died in his sleep. The boy across the road, his sisters not long just died... All sorts of folk are dying.”

Our priority is to help children, young people and families make positive, sustainable changes for a better life. How can we ensure the children we support now are not the fatalities of the future? Who should answer this question? It is not politicians, service designers or even our teams delivering support. It is the children and young people with expertise by experience.

For too long services have been designed by those delivering services, not by those who use them. Children and young people are frequently not asked, often viewed as future adults, victims, or passive recipients of services. Young people experiencing challenges with addictions are even less likely to be asked, as if their behaviour takes away their right to have a say. Yet children’s human rights are inalienable and unconditional.

What would services look like if they were based on children’s rights?

Children have a right to have a say in all matters that affect them and for their views to be given due weight. They should be involved in all aspects of service design and delivery. To deliver something different, we need to go beyond this. We need services which respect children’s right to life and survival, the best possible health, an adequate standard of living, access to activities, and recovery from trauma. We will only prevent future drug and alcohol deaths by services recognising and respecting children as rights holders now.

Young people tell us that they want support that sees their whole person, not just their presenting challenge, they want support for their family, they want support that does not punish them for making mistakes but focusses on building on their strengths.

As one young person wisely told us: “Loads of people take drugs to feel better, to get it done. Give them something to do, the gym, the youth club. Come and see us all the time, [not] once a month to check-up, have set s**t to do, don’t put it at the end of school time. People with experience should be able to work with them, but it’s hard for them to get jobs... See if they were to tell you, you wouldn’t feel as bad.”

Meg Thomas is Head of Research, Policy and Participation, Includem