Alcohol guides for social workers

The British Association of Social Work have produced a number of alcohol guides for social workers.

Children , Families and Alcohol Use

The guide that focuses on children and families includes the following key messages:

  • Nobody – including parents – starts drinking because they want to develop a problem.
  • Alcohol use alone does not cause neglect, abuse or lack of care – poor parenting does.
  • Problematic drinking can contribute to abuse, neglect and harm.
  • Changing drinking behaviour does not automatically lead to improved parenting. Don’t assume it will.
  • All professional Social Workers should be able to deliver alcohol information and brief advice.

The guide describes the protective factors for children growing up in households where there is problematic drinking by parents, and what supports children’s resilience.

The guide reminds social workers:

Opportunities to promote resilience for young people are part of care planning. This complements and doesn’t dilute expectations of responsibility from parents.

Resilience is not the same as maturity. Young people who have experienced poor parenting may need opportunities to be less mature. This might include more time with peers and time for play and fun.

Young People and Alcohol

A second guide looks at the issues for working with young people who are already drinking “and
whose use of alcohol is excessive or problematic.”

The guide reminds readers:

a young person may not have thought about why they drink/drink heavily. By raising the issue you may be the fi rst person to help them think about it.

In terms of providing an educative role, the guide advises social workers:

  • Be careful not to ‘lecture’ young people but know enough to help them understand the facts.
  • Be prepared to offer harm minimisation advice, e.g. recommended no. of units of alcohol per day; alcohol free days each week.
  • Choose your moment – one to one chat may be better than in front of peers.
  • Tell them about the long term effects too – social, mental and physical.
  • Provide information on where to get help locally, e.g. via text, at college, on business sized cards.

The guide makes it clear that social workers are not expected to undertake specialist work around alcohol, but they can and should undertake assessments and provide early interventions.  The guide says:

Unless you specialise in alcohol you are not expected to do specialist work.  However…

  • talking to young people about their drinking
  • offering age appropriate advice and education
  • enhancing their motivation to change their risky drinking, and
  • referring on to specialists (if needed).

…are not specialist tasks!

Perhaps inevitably given the audience the guides are less strong on primary preventative interventions and the sorts of universal skills based approach that we’ve advocated.  That said I think these brief guides are very much welcome.

When Ofsted last looked at the sorts of advice that children in care would value from social workers guidance about substances was prominent.

In our survey, we asked children to tell us, if they weren’t already getting all the advice they needed, exactly what else they needed advice or information about…

Some wrote particularly about advice and information on the dangers of drugs: ‘Drugs, even if they haven’t done them, so they know what they would be doing before they get into a mess.’


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