Children as young as 12 have been referred for specialist drug and alcohol treatment in South Yorkshire, new figures have revealed.
Freedom of Information requests to councils across the country found hundreds of youngsters nationally had needed help for drink and drug problems last year - with the youngest in Sheffield and Barnsley being two children each aged 12.
Referrals can mean a child is vulnerable to drug and alcohol misuse through exposure from a parent or other relative, or could have started abusing substances themselves.
Andrew Brown, director of programmes at charity Mentor UK, which works to protect children from drug and alcohol misuse, said he was shocked by the findings and said more preventative work was needed in schools.
“We think it is vital that alcohol and drug education improve,” said Andrew.
“Our own survey of teachers suggests that at the moment delivery is inconsistent, and that the norm is to timetable only one or two sessions a year.”
Nationally, more than 360 children aged 12 or under were referred for treatment in 2012-13, compared with 433 in 2011-12, according to Public Health England.
More than half of under-13s - 59 per cent - received treatment for cannabis misuse, while a third were treated for alcohol misuse. A small number abused solvents.
Children are most commonly referred for treatment by education providers or youth offending teams.
The Freedom of Information requests also found children as young as four had been referred by education and children’s services to alcohol and drug specialists in Ayrshire, Scotland.
A Government spokeswoman said: “Both the old and the new curriculum are clear that all pupils should be taught about how drugs and other substances can be harmful to the human body.
“The science curriculum also covers how drugs can affect people’s health and lifestyle.”