Vulnerable children in Hertfordshire are struggling with substance misuse, figures suggest.

Authorities in the area have flagged nearly 1,000 concerns about children abusing alcohol or drugs over the last four years, according to Department for Education data.

Specifically, figures show there were 259 concerns about child-related alcohol misuse and 738 cases relating to drug abuse identified during assessments of children in need between 2017-18 and 2020-21.

In the latest year, assessors flagged 255 concerns in Hertfordshire about childhood substance misuse – 196 cases involving a youngster's drug use, and 59 their misuse of alcohol.

That figure was up from 234 the year before and higher than the 209 cases recorded in 2018-19, before the coronavirus pandemic.

Figures declined in the pandemic

Figures declined in the pandemic

The total number of concerns does not necessarily equate to the number of children involved, as a child could be recorded as needing support for both drug and alcohol use at the same assessment.

Charity Barnardo's says more should be done to tackle the "alarming" issue of drug and alcohol use among children referred to social care services across England.

Across England, concerns around a child's drug or alcohol use were identified 39,000 times at assessments in 2020-21 – down 7 per cent from the year before, but up 9 per centcompared to 2018-19.

Barnardo's interim co-CEO Michelle Lee-Izu said the impact of the pandemic on young people's mental health could have contributed to their use of drugs and alcohol.

Calling for increased funding for mental health support in schools, she said: “To counter this, and help children and young people cope with the trauma, loss and adversity they have experienced, we need a radically different approach to ensure they get the support they need."

The figures were deemed alarming (Photo: PA)

The figures were deemed 'alarming' (Photo: PA)

National figures could be higher, as the pandemic contributed to a 7 per cent drop in referrals about children in need in 2020-21, mainly driven by a fall in referrals from schools, according to the DfE.

In Hertfordshire social services received 5,136 referrals about children in need last year – 4 per cent fewer than 5,377 in 2019-20.

There were 5,104 children in need in the area as of the end of March, the figures show.

A Government spokeswoman said it was providing investment to charities supporting vulnerable children and giving billions of pounds to local authorities to help them respond to pressures, including for children's services.

She added: “We’re also making £24 million available for a regional recovery fund for children’s social care, to tackle the most pressing issues vulnerable children face in those areas, as well as providing more investment in mental health support and championing Family Hubs so parents can access important support services for themselves and their children.

“The Independent Care Review will also address the sector's major challenges.”