Q. Why do you teach young children about drugs?
A. Quite simply, we do not. We start by teaching children how to make healthy choices to give them the confidence, as they progress through their primary years, to examine in a balanced way how drugs like medicines, alcohol, nicotine and illegal substances may adversely affect them. It is normally only in about Year 3 when children themselves raise the questions about why people drink and smoke that we start to help them consider these things for themselves. That is also when we start to help them learn what are known as resistance and assertiveness skills. These are the type of skills that would enable them to walk away with confidence from influences or pressures they may face from others to experiment with harmful substances.
Professor Winston described our approach very succinctly:
“Education for children at an early age is vital to help them adopt the right healthy habits so that their health later on is going to be as good as possible.”
Q. How do you know your programmes work?
A. It depends what is meant by “what works”. This has a number of interpretations – depending on whether drug education programmes are attempting to persuade children never to try drugs, persuade those who have started to stop, or have no aims beyond giving children and young people the facts around drug taking effects and consequences.
We aim to give children and their families accurate information about legal and illegal drugs within the context of making healthy choices, through age and developmentally appropriate teaching developed and delivered with teachers. Evaluations of our programmes have shown that knowledge and understanding of the health topics addressed, are increased by our programmes, and it is widely recognised that increasing knowledge and understanding are important components of behaviour change.
Our main aim is to help children make positive health choices using teaching methods and content based on the best available evidence on effective health education. We also regularly survey teachers, children and parents to assess the impact of our programmes on children’s understanding of health-related issues. The findings are used to inform any needed adaptations to our programmes.
We acknowledge that children do not learn from us in isolation and are influenced by many different factors, including what they see and hear at home and their whole school experience, by the media, including advertising, popular music and TV programmes. They also learn from friends and extended family members, and members of their communities.
Given the many factors that shape children’s development, it is difficult to isolate the specific influences of our programmes. However, all of our work is underpinned by the guiding principle that we should do all we can to ensure children get the best opportunities to make their own health choices and that this is best achieved through effective, community-wide and ongoing health education. Many schools across the region demonstrate their faith in our work by working with us every year.
Q. How can my child see your programmes?
A. Ask your child if they have visited the LifeBus and met Harold the Giraffe who lives there! Alternatively, ask a member of staff at your childs school if they have heard of our work. If they haven’t, please let us know and we will contact them.