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Our advice service

We provide advice to parents, grandparents, relatives, friends and kinship carers who are involved with children’s services in England or need their help. We can help you understand processes and options when social workers or courts are making decisions about your child’s welfare.

Our advice service is free, independent and confidential.

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By phone or email

To speak to an adviser, please call our free and confidential advice line 0808 801 0366 (Monday to Friday 9.30am to 3pm, excluding Bank Holidays). Or you can ask us a question via email using our advice enquiry form.

Discuss on our forums

Our online advice forums are an anonymous space where parents and kinship carers (also known as family and friends carers) can get legal and practical advice, build a support network and learn from other people’s experiences.

Advice on our website

Our get help and advice section describes the processes that you and your family are likely to go through, so that you know what to expect. Our webchat service can help you find the information and advice on our website which will help you understand the law and your rights.

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How might children’s services or the Family Court look into someone’s alcohol or drug use?

Children’s services may ask a parent or carer to have a ‘hair strand test’ to find out how they are using alcohol or a drugs. This is because a hair strand test can also look at what substances someone is using. And how much of a substance they have been taking.

Parents or carers may be asked to agree to have a ‘liver function test’. This test aims to work out whether someone is drinking alcohol to excess.

Hair strand testing explained

  1. When a drug enters the body, it is transported via the blood stream and goes into the hair. As hair grows, traces of the drug stay in the hair. The hair can be analysed by specialist laboratories to provide information about the type of drug a person may have used, and how much they have used.
  2. Hair strand tests can also be used for working out how much alcohol a person has drunk. This is because by-products produced by the body when someone drinks a lot of alcohol can also be present in hair.
  3. A social worker might ask a parent or carer to have a hair strand test, so they have an understanding of how much or how often a person is using drugs or drinking alcohol. This involves a small amount of hair being cut off. This is then sent to a laboratory who analyses it, and sends a report back within a few days.

Liver function test for excessive alcohol use

A liver function test is a type of blood test. It is used to look at how well someone’s liver is working.

If there are concerns a parent or carer is drinking heavily, they may be asked to have this type of test. This is because regular heavy drinking can affect liver function. The blood test can establish how the liver is functioning. This can indicate whether a person is drinking to excess.

When exactly may hair strand and liver function tests be used?

Parents and carers should be aware that children’s services may ask for them to have a hair strand or liver function test at any stage. It is not only when the case is in the Family Court that children’s services might want this information. It may be requested as part of a child protection assessment or be used to chart progress under a child protection plan. Testing could form part of the work being done during a pre-proceedings process.

This kind of testing may be an important part of children’s services understanding:

  • The level and nature of a parent or carer’s drug or alcohol use
  • What level of risk a child may face from their parent or carer’s alcohol or drug use
  • What extra support will best meet the needs of the child and family.

Whatever the precise situation, children’s services should clearly explain why testing is being requested and what will be involved. Parents or carers should be told how the testing will be arranged and how the results will be shared with them.

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