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Hidden Harm is defined by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs as:- “Parental problem drug use and its actual and potential effects on children”

We estimate there are between 250,000 and 350,000 children of problem drug users in the UK – about one for every problem drug user. Parental problem drug use can and does cause serious harm to children at every age from conception to adulthood. Reducing the harm to children from parental problem drug use should become a maincobjective of policy and practice. Effective treatment of the parent can have major benefits for the child. By working together, services can take many practical steps to protect and improve the health and well-being of affected children. The number of affected children is only likely to decrease when the number of problem drug users decrease ( Hidden Harm Multi Agency Guidance 2013).

All professionals who come into contact with families where substance misuse is an issue have a responsibility to ensure that children in these circumstances are identified as early as possible and are given appropriate intervention, support and protection:- “Early Intervention breaks the all too common cycle in which people who grow up with dysfunctional behaviours and lifestyles transmit them to their children, who, in turn, transmit them to their grandchildren. Early Intervention offers a real chance to break this destructive pattern and of raising children to become good parents and carers in turn” (Allen 2011)

It is essential that all professionals involved work in partnership, exchange relevant information, share knowledge and expertise in order to safeguard children effectively.

Summary of Key Messages

  • Be child focused not substance use focused
  • Early identification and intervention is key – be alert to the signs and symptoms of substance misuse
  • Remember not to ignore substance misuse we all have a duty to protect the safety and welfare of children
  • Child protection supersedes priority over client confidentiality and information sharing
  • Challenge perceptions
  • Have a non-judgemental approach and be open and honest with families
  • Be flexible – each family is different
  • Work in partnership with families and other agencies

If you have any queries or are unsure how to advise a family – please contact the relevant agency for advice

Consider the impact drugs has on parents physically and mentally and how this will then impact on their parenting capacity and ability to meet the needs of their child

Where children are in contact with problematic substance misuse, or where either parent is misusing substances in a manner detrimental to the child's welfare or the development of an unborn baby, instituting safeguarding procedures should be considered.


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