Vulnerable children in Bolton are struggling with substance misuse, figures suggest.
Authorities in the area have flagged hundreds of concerns about children abusing alcohol or drugs over the last four years, according to Department for Education data.
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.
Figures show in Bolton 243 concerns about child-related alcohol misuse and 595 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 280 concerns about childhood substance misuse – 202 cases involving a youngster's drug use, and 78 their misuse of alcohol.
That figure was up from 195 the year before and higher than the 175 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.
Concerns about young people aged over 18, who are still receiving post-care support from children's social care services, are included in the figures.
Across England, concerns around a child's drug or alcohol use were identified 39,000 times at assessments in 2020-21 – down 7% from the year before, but up 9% compared to 2018-19.
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 Bolton social services received 5,187 referrals about children in need last year – 23% more than 4,207 in 2019-20.
There were 2,447 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.”