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Local Authority concerns about drug and alcohol use around children
The Local Authority have concerns about drug use and excessive use of alcohol around my children – what should I do?
Worried family members, professionals or members of the public may notify the Local Authority of concerns about parents or carers abusing drugs and/or alcohol around children. If the police respond to a call out and find a person under the influence of drugs is caring for a child, it is likely that a safeguarding referral will be made to the Local Authority.
The Local Authority’s primary concern is how a parent or carer’s drug use affects their ability to provide good enough care to a child, and the potential for the child to be exposed to risky individuals, e.g. drug dealers, because of a parent’s drug use. If these concerns are borne out then the Local Authority will argue that a child has suffered, or is at risk of suffering, harm and may seek to remove the child from the parent’s care to safeguard them.
Once the Local Authority have been notified of a concern they may visit your home and complete a Section 47 enquiry to determine if your child is at risk of harm and whether action needs to be taken to safeguard your child. Part of the enquiry will also assess if any further support is needed for your family and if you could be signposted to any additional services. It is likely that they will ask personal questions that you may feel are intrusive, this can be difficult if you do not accept that you have abused drugs or alcohol, or if you do not agree that your use of drugs, or more particularly, alcohol is a problem. If your partner is abusing drugs and/or alcohol around your child then you may be advised that ending the relationship with your partner will address the Local Authority’s concern and safeguard your child.
There are a number of actions you can take and/or services you can work with to reduce the concerns held by the Local Authority, such as:
Agreeing to engage with drug and alcohol testing – If the Local Authority has grounds to believe that you are abusing drugs and/or alcohol they may ask you to agree to take a drugs test. For drugs testing this will usually be a hair strand test. Two samples of hair are taken from your head, usually from the back; if it is not possible to obtain a sample from you head then sometimes it is possible to take hair samples from another part of your body although the test would only indicate that you had taken drugs, not give any indication when. For alcohol testing this usually involves a hair sample and a blood sample to test for chronic excessive use of alcohol. It is your choice whether or not you agree to drug and alcohol testing, however, it is worth knowing that if you choose not to do the test then it is likely that a Local Authority will assume you have something to hide.
Engaging with a drug and alcohol support service – If you acknowledge that you do abuse drugs or alcohol, or have done in the recent past, then you may be encouraged to engage with a service, such as Turning Point, to help you address your issues with drugs or alcohol and support you in your efforts to stop abusing them. You may also be encouraged to complete work to better understand how abusing drugs or alcohol can negatively impact children and the care they receive, this work can be done by services such as Turning Point and also by the social work team.
Sign a written agreement – You may be asked by the social work team to sign a written agreement. This is a child-focussed agreement, which will outline a number of requirements for you to agree to, to ensure your child’s safety and well-being. While this is not a “legal document”, it is important that you understand that if you sign the agreement and do not follow it then it could be used as evidence against you in the family courts.
Sign a Section 20 agreement – If the Local Authority have serious concerns regarding your child’s safety they may ask you to sign a Section 20 agreement. This would mean that you are voluntarily agreeing to allow your child live elsewhere, either with a family member or in a foster care placement. You would retain your parental responsibility and this would not be shared with the Local Authority. It is important that you seek independent legal advice before signing a Section 20 agreement, Johnson Astills have a dedicated and experienced Child Care Team who can readily provide advice and assistance regarding Section 20 agreements.
If you have Local Authority involvement with your children at Child Protection level ranging through to Care Proceedings in the Family Court then Johnson Astills can assist you. We have experience in assisting parents at all stages of Local Authority involvement. Please contact Johnson Astills at either our Leicester Office on 0116 255 4855 or our Loughborough Office on 01509 610 312 and ask for a member of the Care Team so that we can advise you accordingly.
See also related article – Local Authority concerns about Domestic abuse around children.