In 2019/20 there were almost 160 youngsters in treatment, a significant rise from 15/16 when there were around 65 under-18s receiving support. The figure for 17/18 and 18/19 was around 130.
The increase comes after the service reviewed its referrals process following the low numbers recorded in 15/16, but a report by Jayne Randall, Shropshire Council’s drug and alcohol strategic commissioner, warns it is now operating at capacity.
The report, which will be discussed by councillors at a meeting next week, says the rise “bucks the national trend” which has seen numbers decline over the same period.
“Workforce is a major risk within all substance misuse services and has been recognised nationally,” it says.
“To date the young people’s substance misuse service has managed to recruit to any vacancies, however, this is not the national picture.
“The service is currently at capacity and has periodically had to introduce waiting lists when waiting to finish the recruitment process.
“If the service continues to experience an increase in the number of people entering treatment capacity and waiting times will become an issue.
“Under the national quality standards no one – young person or adult – should wait more than three weeks from referral to first assessment.
“The service capacity will be closely monitored to ensure the needs of young people can be met safely.
“If numbers in treatment continue to rise further, investment in capacity may be needed to ensure the quality of the service delivered is maintained.”
The service is provided by charity We Are With You, which also provides adults’ substance use support services in the county.
Ms Randall’s report says many of the young people referred into the service have “a range of vulnerabilities” including domestic abuse, not being in education or training, self-harm, and exploitation.
Just under half have a mental health need.
A quarter of young people within the service are reported to be using two or more substances, while 28 per cent first started using their main problem substance before the age of 15.
The report says: “The majority of young people who seek help from the service are not usually dependent, however their substance using behaviour will be impacting on their education, relationships and longer term life chances.
“Offering early interventions, harm reduction, structured one to one and targeted support the service works with the young person to move them towards positive activities, building resilience and enabling them to make informed choices.”
Support workers usually meet with the young people at their homes, schools or other community buildings, but during the pandemic the majority if sessions have been online.
The report highlights the high number of referrals from education settings, which account for more than half of all referrals.
It says: “This is encouraging as it means young people are been identified before issues escalate, it also demonstrates the close working relationship the service has with education colleagues.”
It adds that it is acknowledged that “further work is needed to improve the pathway” with health partners and mental health services.
The report will be discussed by the council’s people overview committee next Wednesday.