Substance use in itself does not constitute child abuse or neglect; child protection concerns arise from the potential impact of the parent’s problematic substance use on the child’s safety and vulnerability, and on the parent’s caregiving capacity
When a parent is unable to follow through with plans and goals that have been created for the safety of the children, this is a sign that they are sufficiently impaired by their problematic use to require outside intervention. While one goal is to support parents in making positive change around their use, it is important to privilege the protective needs of children as the risk of negative outcomes in the short and long-term are significant across all measures.
The Child Protection Response Model (CPRM)
The goal of the child protection response model is to address immediate safety concerns and reduce the likelihood of future maltreatment of the child.
The objectives of CPRM are to:
- Incorporate a balance of addressing safety and risk factors with a strength-based, solution-focused approach;
- Presume in favour of a Family Development Response as the primary pathway for addressing screened-in protection reports when circumstances do not involve severe abuse or neglect and families are able and willing to participate in collaborative assessment and planning; and
- Use Structured Decision Making (SDM) assessment tools to continuously assess safety, vulnerability, strengths and needs.
Parental Problematic Substance use as a Child Safety Factor
How can a social worker support an adult in making positive change while ensuring the child is protected?
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Collaborate in the development and decision-making, particularly when establishing safety plans and family plans
Develop an open relationship with information sharing and collaboration.
Be clear and specific when establishing goals. For example:
“The children will not be exposed to substance use in the home” can be interpreted as the parents just need to use elsewhere but once under the influence there is no issue.
- Equally, it is important to consider how an expectation will be monitored as an aspect of accountability. For example: “If you do this, then this is what happens.”
Limit questions that illicit ‘ideal answers’ like: “What would you want for your kids?” as parent’s will tend to give a best case scenario answer.
Connect the adults to programs. Some programs may be contracted through other sources, particularly in rural communities, in the health authority. Social workers should also consider referring the children, who have been living with their parent’s substance use, to services that are designed to meet these children’s healing needs where available.
Connect Indigenous adults to programs that provide services with an Indigenous lens as per the Aboriginal Policy and Practice Framework (APPF). Look first to those services and programs that may be offered by the Indigenous community itself including informal Indigenous supports.
The child welfare worker’s role is not to counsel the adult, but to ensure the safety of child. Though this can include expectations of parents to seek out and participate in counselling as part of a safety and family plan.
Though there are circumstances in child protection work when choice may not be an option, a good Family Development Response (FDR) will create choices within limitations. For example, all children living in the home of a protection report must be interviewed. The option that can be presented is not if the children can be interviewed it is in asking where the parents would like the children to be interviewed.
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