HUNDREDS of vulnerable children in Southampton are struggling with substance misuse.

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

Figures show that, in the city, 193 concerns about child-related alcohol misuse and 511 cases relating to drug abuse were identified during assessments of children in need between 2017-18 and 2020-21.

In the latest year, assessors flagged 186 concerns about childhood substance misuse – 136 cases involving a youngster's drug use, and 50 their misuse of alcohol.

That figure was down from 271 the year before but higher than the 129 cases recorded in 2018-19, before the coronavirus 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.

Barnardo's interim co-CEO Michelle Lee-Izu said the figures were alarming and that 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."

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

In Southampton social services received 4,092 referrals about children in need last year – 15% fewer than 4,840 in 2019-20.

There were 2,210 children in need in the area as of the end of March, the figures show.

They were among 388,000 youngsters across England in need of help and protection from local authority services.

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.”