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New Adfam report: Parental Substance Use

26 Feb 2013

Adfam today releases a new report - Parental substance use: through the eyes of the worker.

Based on interviews with social workers, treatment providers and other support workers across the country, the report assesses what has changed over the last 10 years since Hidden Harm was first published and highlights further areas for improvement. The report also assesses whether government policy is helping or hindering front line efforts to protect vulnerable children.


Key findings include:

  • Initial progress following publication of Hidden Harm in 2003 was positive but the momentum has since diminished 
  • There is a danger of a leadership vacuum caused by the failure to recruit a Chief Social Worker coupled with the dissolution of the National Treatment Agency
  • The government’s slimming down of national guidance and greater focus on professional judgement has not been accompanied by a necessary improvement in support systems for workers
  • Understanding of drug and alcohol use must become a key part social work practice and professional development – with compulsory pre-qualification training for all social workers
  • Cuts to local authority budgets represent a significant risk to protecting children leading to the loss of experienced staff, fragmentation of existing partnerships and holes in local efforts to identify and refer parents and children to appropriate support.

In 2003 the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs released Hidden Harm - Responding to the needs of the children of problem drug users. Setting out both the scale and nature of problems faced by children whose parents take drugs, the report was seen as the primer for social services and drug treatment services to better respond to needs faced by children.

Adfam's new report concludes that whilst progress has been made, especially an increased focus on child protection in treatment services and a significant improvement in partnership work, there remain many areas of concern.

Calls to action include:

  • Government to clarify who will have leadership of this agenda once the National Treatment Agency is dissolved (April 2013)
  • That Government must tackle substance misuse as a core part of its reforms of social welfare
  • Explicitly address, in statutory guidance, the role drug and alcohol treatment services in identifying and supporting children
  • There should be arrangements for compulsory pre-qualification training for social workers on parental substance use
  • For local authorities to recognises that cuts to services below crisis level will decrease the number of early interventions, which in the long term will increase the number of families in need of intensive support.

Vivienne Evans OBE, Chief Executive of Adfam, chaired the Advisory Council on Misuse of Drugs Hidden Harm implementation group, and said on the publication of the report:

“We know there are hundreds of thousands of children whose parents have a serious drug problem and yet in many ways we continue to skirt around the issue instead of tackling it head on. These children face some of the toughest challenges in our society and we must get better at identifying and supporting them.

"The ongoing cuts to local authority budgets is a deep concern. What we are almost more worried about is that the National Treatment Agency, which has taken leadership of this issue, is being dissolved and no replacement body has been named as accountable for future work. I am pleased that protecting children is more ingrained in drug and alcohol work now than it was ten years ago, but there are huge challenges that lie ahead as public health is devolved to local authority level and the way services are commissioned undergoes wholesale reform. Amidst all this change, we must not lose sight of the fact that the children of drug users need specialist support to ensure that they have a better chance in life.”