Overseas Policy and Legal Framework in Combating Parental Substance Abuse ― the UK

Overseas Policy and Legal Framework in Combating Parental Substance Abuse ― the UK

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The Children Acts:

  • Set out the responsibilities of local authorities and other services for protecting children and promoting their welfare with the key principle that the well-being of the child is of paramount importance.
  • Place a duty on agencies engaging with problem drug users who have dependent children, or directly with the children themselves, to assess the needs of children if their health and well-being may be at risk.

Learn about the policy framework of HK.

Child Commissions in the UK

Child Commissions can be found across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. They have the statutory duty to promote and protect the rights of children in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child; have the powers to investigate matters affecting children; review and assess law, policy and practice of their adequacy and effectiveness.


 The National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse
  •  Developed models of care that require drug and alcohol services to recognize the need to support clients’ children.
  • Requires services to collect data on clients’ children and assess the effect of substance misuse on the family.
The Children’s National Service Framework
  • Children in Special Circumstances External Working Group: address the need of children of problem drug users.
Green Paper on Children at Risk
  • Develops policies that improve the life chances of children of problem drug abusers.
Sure Start
  • Provide specific support to families who have to deal with drug or alcohol misuse.
  • Local volunteers – often those who have faces similar difficulties themselves – are trained in counselling.


The Welsh Substance Misuse Strategy (2000)
  • Includes supporting the children of problem substance misusers as an important objective.
Framework for Partnership
  • Children and child-related professionals are involved in drawing up strategic plan in improving the well-being of children and young people across all areas of their lives.


The Drugs Action Plan: Protecting Our Future (2000)
  • Identifies the children of drug misusing parents as a priority group.
All Drug Action Teams and Area Child Protection Committees
  • Are required to have in place local policies on support to drug misusing parents and their children in line with national guidance.
  • Good practice guidance for working with children and families affected by substance misuse were published in 2003.
  • For Scotland’s Children: Better Integrated Children’s Services (2001) highlights the major impact of parental problem drug use on children and stresses that helping children with drug misusing parents is a task for health and education and social services.

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs has made further recommendations to the UK government:

Areas Recommendations
Policy level
Government policies Identify the problem and set a clear objective:

  • Take full account of the particular challenges posed by parental problem drug use when revising child protection policies and procedures, with the consequent implications for staff training, assessment and case management procedures, and inter-agency liaison.
  • Identify children of problem drug users as a large group with special needs that require specific actions by health, education and social services. Make reducing the harm to children as a result of parental drug use as a main objective of the UK’s drug strategies.
  • Collect data and conduct research to assist policy making (see below)

Listen to children’s voice:

  • Make the voices of the children of problem drug users be heard and listened to.
  • Develop means of enabling the children of problem drug users to safely express their thoughts and feelings about their circumstances.

Policy making:

  • Contribute actively to meet the needs of children of drug abuse parents either directly or through liaison with appropriate services in the non-statutory sector. Protocols of arrangements should be set out between drug and alcohol services and child protection services –> duty of National Treatment Agency, Welsh Assembly Government and Scottish Executive


  • Drug Action Teams: Forge links between drug misuse services, maternity services and children’s health and social care services that will enable them to respond in a coordinated way to the needs of the children of problem drug users.

Evaluation system:

  • Ensure that there are mechanisms to evaluate the effectiveness of child protection policies
Data collection with the help of service units
  • Record an agreed minimum consistent set of data about the children of clients presenting to them in all drug treatment agencies
  • Include “dependent children and their whereabouts” as standard elements in the National Drug Misuse Treatment System and in the Drug Misuse Databases for comparisons between regions.
  • Routinely record problem drug or alcohol use by pregnant women or a child’s parents in a way that respects privacy and confidentiality and enables accurate assessment of the individual/family with consistent evaluation of and comparisons between services.
  • Collect data on stillbirths, congenital abnormalities in the newborn, and subsequent developmental abnormalities in the child
  • Study the relationship between maternal problem drug use and negative impacts on the child
  • Assess the true incidence of transmission of hepatitis C between infected female drug users and their babies during pregnancy, birth and infancy.
  • Examine the impact of parental problem drug use on children at all life stages from conception to adolescence. It should include assessing the circumstances and outcomes for those living with problem drug users and those living elsewhere, and the evaluation of interventions in both the short and the long term.
Service level
Children and family services Coordination:

  • Use an integrated approach, based on a common assessment framework, by professionals on the ground including social workers, health visitors and GPs, nursery staff and teachers, child and adolescent mental health services.

Resource allocation:

  • Ensure adequate staffing for children and family services. Explore all practical avenues for attracting and retaining staff in the field of child protection –> duty of the UK government
  • Have a coordinated range of resources capable of providing real support to families with drug problems, directed both at assisting parents and protecting and helping children.

Fostering, residential care and adoption:

  • Ensure sufficient resources for providing foster care, respite care and adoption services.
  • Environment: Ensure such care facilities provide a genuinely caring environment for those children for whom this is the only realistic option.
  • Broaden the range of options for supporting the children of problem drug users to include: day fostering; the provision of appropriate education, training and support for foster parents; and robust arrangements to enable suitable willing relatives to obtain formal status as foster parents.
  • Decision-making: Responsible authorities should recognize the need for rapid evidence-based decision-making, particularly in the case of very young children whose development may be irreparably compromised in a short period of time.
Specialist drug and alcohol services
  • Recognize themselves a responsibility towards the dependent children of their clients and aim to provide accessible and effective support for parents and their children, either directly or through good links with other relevant services.
Training for child-related professionals
  • Raise awareness on the impact of parental problem drug/ alcohol use on children; as well as the importance of recognizing and meeting the needs of children of problem drug users.
  • Make gaining a broad understanding of the impact of parental problem drug or alcohol use on children an objective of general teacher training and continuous professional development.
  • Ensure that all social care workers receive pre-qualification and in-service training that addresses the potential harm to children of parental substance misuse and what practical steps can be taken to reduce it. Consideration should be given to the inclusion of such training as a prerequisite for registration by the appropriate professional bodies –> duty of the new Social Care Councils for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland
  • Include a specific focus on learning how to assess and meet the needs of clients as parents and their children in the training of staff in drug and alcohol agencies.
  • Explore parental substance misuse as a routine part of training for professionals working in child and adolescent mental health services.
Contraception and planned pregnancy
  • Ensure drug users have access to appropriate contraceptive and family planning advice and management (including emergency contraception and termination of pregnancy services) –> duty of all general practitioners who have problem drug users as patients
Identify suspected cases
  • Specialist paediatric and child and adolescent mental health services should explore the possibility of parental drug/alcohol misuse in routinely in child and adolescent mental health services; as well as in all cases of suspected child neglect, sexual abuse, non-accidental injury or accidental drug overdose.
  • Primary care should provide services for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of blood-borne virus infections.
Early years education and schools
  • Cooperation: Should have critical incident plans and clear arrangements for liaison with their local social services team and area child protection committee when concerns arise about the impact on a child of parental problem drug or alcohol use.
  • Should identify at least one trained designated person able to deal with the problems that might arise with the children of problem drug users.
  • Develop a multi-agency abuse prevention strategy which incorporates measures to safeguard the children of problem drug users.
Courts and prisons
  • When custody of a female problem drug user is being considered, court services should ensure that the decision fully takes into account the safety and wellbeing of any dependent children she may have. This may have training implications for sentences.
  • Explore the potential of Drug Courts and Drug Treatment and Testing Orders to provide non-custodial sentences for problem drug users with children.
  • Ensure all women’s prisons have facilities that enable pregnant female drug users to receive antenatal care and treatment of drug dependence of the same standard as in the community.
  • Ensure all female prisoners have access to a suitable environment for visits by their children. Where it is considered to be in the infant’s best interests to remain with his/her mother, consideration should be given by the prison to allowing the infant to do so in a mother and baby unit or other suitable accommodation.
  • Ensure women’s prisons have effective aftercare arrangements to enable appropriate support to be provided after release for female problem drug users with children.


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