Alcohol and Drug Training for Social Workers

Back in April I looked at the number of young people in the care system that were identified as needing treatment for substance misuse.  The bald figures were that 1 in 29 young people in care were identified as needing treatment, which compares to 1 in 240 amongst the general population.

One of the questions I asked was whether the system is good at identifying need and acting on those needs.

A new report from the University of Bedfordshire, published on the Alcohol Research UK website, suggests that social workers aren’t getting the level of training they feel they need in this area.

The key finding seems to be that there is no consistency in how drug and alcohol education is delivered to trainee social workers, with three quarters of respondents saying that they felt there wasn’t sufficient focus on the issue in what was provided.

Looking at the detailed report I can’t find any reference to preventing drug and alcohol misuse though this may be included in the modules that look at how to talk about alcohol and other drugs.  By contrast there are courses that talk about treatment interventions.

In children and family modules the topics that are reported as being covered most often are:

  • Impact on children and families and parenting
  • Identifying problematic alcohol use
  • How to assess risk relating to drug or alcohol issues
  • Working with or referring to specialist alcohol and/or drug workers
  • Reasons people use and misuse substances

The University of Bedford have what look like a number of useful resources on their website including:

Other papers can be downloaded here.

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.’