Substance misuse

This briefing from the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) explores how parenting capacity can be affected by parental substance misuse (drugs and/or alcohol) and how this may be managed

A number of recent serious case reviews have identified parental substance misuse as a cause of a child's death or a factor that played a significant role. Research by the NSPCC into serious case reviews since 2010 identifies that:

The biggest risk posed to children is that parents, when under the influence of drugs or alcohol, are unable to keep their child safe (i.e. overlay and accidents caused through lack of supervision).

NSPCC (2013)

Some key areas of risk are identified as being:

What do we need to consider? Assessments must remain child focused, considering what the impact of the parental substance misuse may be on any children living in the home or being cared for by the adult. Some key questions of parents are:

Rule of optimism The NSPCC research of recent serious case reviews also identified that professionals were too trusting of parent's self reporting, with substance misuse not being seen as excessive or too problematic. It is important to ensure that you maintain a healthy scepticism about what you are being told. as with domestic abuse, the reported levels are likely to be lower than the actual amount used. Research conducted in 2013 into people's self reporting of alcohol use confirms that there is significant under reporting, with the lead research author stating:

Currently we don't know who consumes almost half of all the alcohol sold in England.

When this is coupled with statistics from a 2011 Community Care article that states almost 1,000,000 children in the UK live with drug users, this gives some insight into the scale of the problem that we face when assessing parental substance misuse.We must also remember that current compliance does not necessarily mean that there will be or has been ongoing compliance, and therefore the risks need to be regularly reviewed and the challenge to the substance misusers sustained.

Working with the family The NSPCC make the following recommendations for working with the family:


References:NSPCC (2013) - Learning from case reviews involving parental substance misuse