Good Practice Guidance for working with Children and Families affected by Substance Misuse
Not all families affected by substance misuse will experience difficulties. However, parental substance misuse may have significant and damaging consequences for children. These children are entitled to help, support and protection, within their own families wherever possible. Sometimes they will need agencies to take prompt action to secure their safety. Parents too will need strong support to tackle and overcome their problems and promote their children's full potential. The national drugs strategy calls for agencies to assess the needs of children of drug misusing parents, and provide services to safeguard their welfare. This document sets out national guidance for all relevant agencies to assist them to do so. The Scottish Executive has asked all Drug Action Teams and Child Protection Committees to have in place local policies on support to drug misusing parents and their children, in line with the guidance in this document. The children of problem drinkers are identified as a group with specific needs within the Alcohol Plan for Action. Drug and Alcohol Action Teams should now look at the needs of children whose parents misuse alcohol.
This guidance has been drafted in consultation with people who work either with substance misusers or with children and young people, or both. The aim is to provide guidance for everyone who has an interest in the well-being of children and families. This includes staff in drug and alcohol services, children's services and criminal justice agencies. The guidance should be useful for social workers, medical and nursing staff in hospitals and the community, health visitors and other health professionals, teachers, housing staff, youth workers, psychologists, staff in voluntary organisations, Reporters, police, Procurators Fiscal and staff in prisons. The parents and families with whom they work, and their representatives, may also find the guidance useful in describing what to expect from services and agencies.
We met parents who were using, or recovering from, addiction to drugs. They were clear about the harmful consequences for children of their parents' problems. The children of problem drinkers are no different in this respect. We know that all these children need more attention. They need professionals in all agencies to be alert to their needs and welfare, whether the children are regarded as clients of the agency or not. Close communication and effective sharing of relevant information between the different helpers are key success factors. We have included in this document some of the statements parents made to us, with names and other details altered to protect identities. We have also reproduced quotes from children.
The first part of this guidance sets out what is currently known about the extent of parental substance misuse and the impact on children. Part 2 sets out what agencies need to ask of families when they present with drug or alcohol problems, and provides guidance to staff on identifying risks. Part 3 offers advice on what kinds of help may be needed, and on how to work together more effectively. Part 4 tackles the complex area of confidentiality and offers advice to agencies about when and how to share information. Part 5 identifies the need to strengthen services for families and offers advice on how this might be done. Work with children and their parents needs to be underpinned by jointly agreed policies, procedures and practice guidance, together with sound training; part 6 provides guidance on this. Each local Drug and/or Alcohol Action Team is advised to work closely with their local Child Protection Committee to put in place joint policies and procedures for addressing the needs of children in these families. Information and advice on pregnancy is collated in Appendix III.
The messages throughout this document are that:
1. children's welfare is the most important consideration;
2. it is everyone's responsibility to ensure that children are protected from harm;
3. we should help children early and not wait for crises - or tragedies - to occur; and
4. we must work together, in planning and delivering services, in assessment and care planning with families, and in multi-disciplinary training.
Parents with substance misuse problems need professionals to take responsibility for their children's welfare when they are no longer in a position to care for them adequately. That may mean intervening against their wishes. Indeed, parents told us that they believed that agencies must do so, though they may well fight against this in practice.
Much is being done, and there are examples of good practice throughout the document - but much more needs to be done.
This guidance is intended to enable agencies to help children in these circumstances achieve their full potential. It provides a way forward for agencies to work together to change things for the better and prevent substance misuse destroying the lives of more children.