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Drug and alcohol misuse

Concern about drug or alcohol misuse is one of the most common reasons why children’s services become involved with children and their families.

Many parents and carers drink alcohol in a moderate, safe way but:

Where drugs or alcohol are misused, this can have a negative impact on a person’s physical and mental health. And it may affect their parenting.

Help, support and drug and alcohol misuse

Can help come from a GP?

Visiting the GP is often a good place for someone who is struggling with alcohol or drug misuse. The GP may offer treatment at the practice. Or they may refer on to a local drug or alcohol service.

There are specialist organisations that provide information, advice and support in relation to drug and alcohol misuse. There is help and support available for those struggling with drug use, alcohol use, and for family members of those with addictions.

See the Drug and alcohol misuse section of our Useful links page for details of relevant organisations.

How might a child and family be supported if a parent or carer is struggling with alcohol or drugs misuse?

There are different ways help and support may be given to children and their families. The framework under which a family is supported will depend on how serious the concerns are. It will depend on the impact the drug or alcohol misuse is having, or is likely to have, on the child. Read about early help and child in need below – two important ways children and families may receive extra support and services.

See our Children’s services page for an overview of all the different ways children’s services may become involved with children and families.

Early help and child in need support for families – click on the drop downs below for information

Early help

Government statutory guidance called Working Together 2018 says practitioners working with families should be alert to families who may need early help services. The guidance says children in families where parents or carers are struggling with drug or alcohol misuse may need this type of help (see Working Together 2018, page 14 at paragraph 6).

Early help aims for agencies to work together to provide support as soon as problems emerge. This is because tackling a problem early can stop things getting worse. Education (schools, nurseries), housing, and health services are all examples of agencies. Early Help can be given to a family with a child up to age 18. So, the child may be a baby, toddler, at primary school or a teenager.

Social workers are not involved in early help assessments or providing early help services. But sometimes they ask early help services to provide assistance to children and families they are working with.

See our Early help page for more information.

Child in need

There is a general legal duty on children’s services departments to work to keep children safe, well cared for and, at home unless this would place them at risk.

To help achieve this, children’s services must provide a range and level of services in their local area to help children ‘in need’. And to help their families (see section 17(1) of the Children Act 1989).

A child in need is a child who needs extra support or services to help them achieve or maintain ‘a reasonable standard of health or development’ (see section 17(1) of the Children Act 1989). All disabled children are classed as children in need.

Where a child or family may need this extra support, children’s services should carry out a child in need assessment. This aims to:

  • Work out if the child is in need or not
  • Decide whether the child is in need enough to get services in that local area
  • Find out what support and services may most help the child and their family.

Local children’s services departments have their own measures for deciding which children are ‘in need’ enough to get services.

See our Child in need page for important information about how to request a child in need assessment and what is involved.

The Family Drug and Alcohol Court

The Family Drug and Alcohol Court is an alternative court for care proceedings. It is specially designed to work with parents who struggle with drug and alcohol misuse. There is not a FDAC in every local area and a parent cannot refer themselves. But if children’s services are thinking about issuing care proceedings because of concerns about drug or alcohol misuse, parents and carers may ask the social worker if a referral can be made to the Family Drug and Alcohol Court.

See FDAC’s Information for Parents webpage, for more information.

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