Drug prevention programmes needed at schools

Children as young as six are exposed to and experimenting with substances like alcohol, dagga and glue. During Drug Awareness Week, which runs this week from 24 to 28 June, Hope House Counselling Centre is creating awareness around the impact that substances have on young people. The Cape Town based non-profit organisation runs prevention and intervention programmes at primary and high schools.

“Studies have found that drug and alcohol use damages children’s growing brains; sometimes permanently. Many drugs effect an area called the pre-frontal cortex, which is involved in decision-making, social behaviour and learning,” says Judy Strickland, a child counsellor and the founder of Hope House.

According to the counselling centre, in order to understand the long-term consequences of drug use, parents, teachers and learners need to know about the impact that substances have on the brain. “Decision-making is a crucial part of psychological development, success at school, and making healthy choices in youth and adulthood is compromised through drug and alcohol use,” says Strickland.

Contributing to the problem is that many children who test positive for drug use are suspended from school; “These students are sent back home; this is often where they are exposed to substances. Positive intervention, through a school run programme, is more likely to have a longer-term impact on vulnerable youth,” says Strickland.

Addressing this, Hope House runs intervention programmes with children and teens across Cape Town, as well as informative sessions for parents and families. “Many learners live in highly stressful circumstances in which they are routinely exposed to alcohol, dagga and other drugs. In some communities, the need to intervene is not just in the individual’s life, but also the lives of their families too,” says Strickland.

Hope House runs a 12-week Community based treatment Programme with at-risk learners to teach them about the impact of drugs on their brains and bodies. They are taught skills to resist starting drug use, as well as coping mechanisms to help them stop using drugs use and to recognise triggers. The programme includes one-on-one counselling sessions and group workshops. Hope House also runs a Strengthening Families programme in communities known to have high levels of substance use.