Updated Good Practice Guidance for use by all practitioners working with children, young people and families affected by substance use



1. The purpose of this Guidance is to provide an updated good practice framework for all child and adult service practitioners working with children and families affected by problem parental alcohol and/or drug use.

2. Adults can recover from substance use and can also effectively parent their children. However, where parental alcohol and/or drug use becomes a problem this can have significant and damaging consequences for any dependent children. This can result in risks to their well-being and it can also impair an adult's capacity to parent effectively.

3. Where children are affected as a result, they are entitled to effective help, support and protection, within their own families wherever possible. Parents too, will often need strong support from services to tackle and overcome their problems and to help them to promote their child's full potential.

4. This Guidance aims to help all child and adult focused services to provide these supports. It is focused primarily on prevention and earliest intervention measures by services where a child is considered to be in need of some form of help or support.

5. However, where significant need for a child is identified at any stage by services, child protection procedures apply. The National Child Protection Guidance for Scotland 2010 describes detailed procedures states here and that:

"Where practitioners have concerns about possible harms to a child it is vital that these are shared with social work services. This is to allow those staff responsible for investigating the circumstances to determine whether that harm is significant. Concerns should be shared without delay as per locally agreed information sharing procedures. Where a child is felt to be in immediate danger practitioners should report, without delay, direct to the police. Similarly, where a child is thought to require immediate medical assistance, this should be sought as a matter of urgency from the relevant health services." (2010, sec 296)

6. Each service working with parents with problem alcohol and/or drug use should have local child protection procedures in place. They should consult with Child Protection Committees about the content of these.


7. This Guidance aims to provide guidance for everyone who has an interest in the well-being of children and families. It has been drafted in consultation with people who work either with substance using adults, with children and young people, or with both. This includes Drugs, Alcohol, Children's and also Criminal Justice services.

8. The Guidance should also be useful for Social Workers, Medical and Health staff in hospitals and also in the community, Public Health Nurses, Education, Housing and Third Sector practitioners, Reporters, Police, Procurators Fiscal and Prison staff. Parents and families and their representatives may also find this Guidance useful where it describes what they should expect from services.

9. The Guidance is also directed at those Leaders and Senior Managers responsible for ensuring effective local service delivery. This is because a shared vision at strategic and operational partnership levels is generally at the heart of delivering effective service supports and improving outcomes for vulnerable children and families.

10. Key partners at the local level are ordinarily defined within Community Planning Partnerships. These should include:

  • Universal services.
  • Alcohol and Drug Partnerships.
  • Child Protection Committees.
  • Partnerships relating to wider children's services and planning fora.


11. This updated Guidance reflects and - is framed in the context of - the national Getting it right for every child (GIRFEC) approach and the Recovery Agenda. These significant programmes followed the original publication of this Guidance in 2003. Together, these provide operational frameworks for child and adult focused services working with all children, individuals and families. These focus on securing overall recovery for families and improving their life chances and outcomes.

12. The Guidance also places a strong focus on early intervention. That is, services working together effectively at the earliest stages to help children and families and not waiting for crises - or tragedies - to occur. This is because early identification and timely interventions can prevent issues from escalating.

13. In effect, with the right interventions, at the right time, parents and children can receive support to better manage any problem alcohol and/or drug use and any other difficulties that they may have. This can leave adults better equipped to parent more effectively and reduce any long-term harms to children.

14. The Guidance also sets out some specific expectations for strategic planning of services to meet the needs of vulnerable children and families. It highlights individual and shared responsibilities for services and organisations.

15. In effect, this updated Guidance provides a good practice framework to help local child and adult services to work together effectively to safeguard and promote the well-being of children and families affected by problematic drug and/or alcohol use.


16. An update about the wider range of relevant national policies and strategies to address substance use and its impacts on children and families is set out in the Executive Summary section for reference by services.


17. Positive language has been carefully chosen and used throughout this Guidance. This is because adults who have an alcohol and/or drug problem can often feel stigmatised and marginalised. They can also be particularly sensitive to professional judgements.

18. As a result, the terms drug and alcohol dependence, drug and alcohol related problems, drug use, problem drinking or problem substance use are used in preference to terms such as addiction, drug addict, alcoholic, drug habit, drug misuse and drug abuse.

19. For the purpose of this guidance, the term parent may include carers. Also, the term families may include significant adults in a child's life that are not the biological parent of the child or who do not reside with that child.


20. A number of local practice examples and tools were shared by some of the services involved in the update of this Guidance. These may be useful references for other services.

21. Rather than include all of these examples within this Guidance, the Multi-agency Resource Service (MARS) based at Stirling University has agreed to collate them on its where these can be readily accessed. Services may choose to contribute to this resource and share examples of local practice on an ongoing basis.

22. The Scottish Government is finalising a national Child Protection Learning and Development Framework. It has also developed a national Child Protection Risk Assessment Toolkit. The Learning and Development Framework is intended to help local practitioners set consistent standards for local child protection training. The Risk Assessment Toolkit will help with the consistent assessment of risk when working with vulnerable children and families. Both of these tools take account of the Getting it right for every child overarching framework.


23. Ultimately, parents affected by problem alcohol and/or drug use need professionals to take responsibility for their children's welfare when they are no longer in a position to care for them adequately. That may mean intervening against their wishes.

24. The responsibility to provide supports to these children and their families will rarely sit with just one child or adult service. All services - whether adult or children focused - must always consider the individual child or adult within the wider context of the family.

25. The Guidance has been updated to promote the Getting it right for every child and the Recovery frameworks which focus on the needs of both children and adults. The key messages running throughout the document - and which are in line with these national frameworks - are that:

  • the well-being of children is the most important consideration;
  • it is everyone's responsibility to ensure that children are protected from harm;
  • we should help children early and not wait for crises - or tragedies - to occur; and
  • child- and adult-focused services must work together, in planning and delivering services, in assessment and care planning with families and in multi-disciplinary training.

26. In effect, this updated guidance is intended to enable all child- and adult-focused services to help these vulnerable children reach their full potential. It provides a way forwards for services to work together effectively to change things for the better and to prevent problem alcohol and/or drug use destroying the lives of more children, young people and their families.


Email: Graeme Hunter

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