Substance misuse safeguarding

Kevin CrowleyOn the safe side

We mustn’t be afraid to engage with parents about sensitive safeguarding issues, says Kevin Crowley

As a social care and health charity, CRI works with individuals, families and communities across England and Wales affected by drugs, alcohol, crime, homelessness, domestic abuse, and antisocial behaviour.

Working with this at-risk group of people, it is imperative that certain safeguards are observed. Service users who seek our help are often in an extremely vulnerable position and may need support with not only the physical effects of substance abuse, but with the effects it can have on their lifestyle, family and professional lives. Our priority is to always help service users create a safe environment, which will ultimately help their recovery process.

Safeguarding particularly applies when the service user is caring for children. As an organisation, CRI has a shared responsibility to ensure that the children of parents struggling with alcohol or substance misuse are safe and protected. While we can never completely eliminate risk, we put our energy and resources into reducing it as much as possible.

A key concern for these often vulnerable children is to limit, as much as possible, exposure to substances. At CRI, we treat heroin-dependent service users with opiate replacement medications which are by their nature potentially dangerous drugs. Any service user who is given methadone, for example, will be provided with a safety-locked box that will prevent children from directly accessing it. Staff conduct home visits, starting from as close to the initial distribution as possible. A vital aspect of these home visits is to ask questions and not make assumptions, as well as educating parents on the risks posed to children around medication. Frontline staff are trained to use their expertise and professional initiative to assess the home environment of a child.

We work with multiple organisations across the social care sector, including local auth­or­ities, police, and social services, to provide a well-rounded and holistic care system. Collaboration and communication is key to giving parents the best possible support, ensuring that separating a child from its parents will only ever come as a last resort. As a drug and alcohol rehabilitation charity, we support parents with substance issues but will always work with or refer cases to other organisations, should their expertise be better placed.

Our safeguarding approach at CRI is to do everything we can to minimise risk. In an ideal world we would reduce risk to zero, but as we are often tragically reminded, in the real world of recovery this is not possible. A fundamental principle is working with our service users and other professionals openly and collaboratively, and not being afraid to engage with them on risk and safeguarding issues. Welfare of their children is not only paramount for us but for the vast majority of parents in recovery.

Kevin Crowley is executive director of quality, governance and innovation at CRI

Experts on safeguarding will be speaking at a national conference in Birmingham on 10 November, presented by Adfam. Details and booking at