Identifying and responding to parental substance abuse can be a difficult responsibility for schools. The signs of such abuse are wide-ranging and may be attributed to many different causes. Where there are no outward signs of neglect or distress, it is even tougher for educators to recognise an unsafe home environment.
This resource is designed to guide schools in identifying and supporting children affected by parental substance abuse. It complements any existing policies relating to drug and alcohol misuse on school grounds and its primary aim, in both contexts, is pupil safeguarding.
Substance Abuse Outside of School
Drug and alcohol abuse prevention programs play a vital role in health and social education at schools across the country. For decades, these programs and workshops have raised awareness of substance abuse and its personal dangers. Yet, one area that often gets overlooked is the damage caused by passive abuse.
For most pupils, substance abuse is more likely within the home. It is imperative educators understand the signs and know how to provide support in a way that both protects children and respects the rights of parents. The information included in this resource is aimed at governors and headteachers but may also be used by education welfare officers, school nurses and members of staff with Designated Senior Person (DSP) status.
Key Points To Discuss
Parental substance abuse is within a school’s scope of responsibility. Just because it is happening away from school grounds does not mean educators and safeguarding professionals can ignore it.
The remit of schools is to prioritise child welfare. It is not the responsibility of a school to provide parents with guidance on drug or alcohol rehabilitation though this may be part of safeguarding efforts. Some education policies touch on this subject but more training is required in most schools.
The school’s policies on support for vulnerable children must be clearly stated and made available to the relevant local authorities where necessary. OFSTED assessments ask for evidence of such measures. The school should be able to answer the following questions:
- What is your school’s policy on supporting vulnerable students?
- Does your school have an action plan for responding to parental substance abuse in the home?
- What metrics are in place to measure the suitability of this action plan?
- Is parental substance abuse included in teacher training resources?
- Is there a senior member of staff in charge of managing and upholding parental substance abuse policies?
- What steps are taken to inform parents of safety concerns relating to their child?
- Do all your teachers know how to respond to a report of parental substance abuse made by a child?
The Importance of Early Detection
Once a report of parental substance abuse has been logged, there are (understandably) multiple checks and verifications to be made before action can be taken. Sometimes, safeguarding measures can feel slow for this reason. However, the important thing is vulnerable students get identified quickly. That way, even if there are obstacles to timely action, teachers can ensure the vulnerable child is visible and monitored for signs of harm while on school grounds.