Sixty Second Interview with Romy Langeland
By Maria Ahmed
A report by Scottish charity the Aberlour Child Care Trust published this week calls for improvements in services for children living with and affected by substance misuse as the Scottish executive sets out an action plan for protecting children of drug-misusers. Langeland is chief executive of the Aberlour Child Care Trust.
How should the system to assess children of drug-misusing be improved?
All decisions must be based on good assessment of both parent and child. This requires assessment of how the parent functions as a parent, how their drug use is managed, their insight into the impact their drug use has on their children and their use of appropriate support networks. It also requires assessment of the child’s age related needs and whether these are being adequately met by the drug using parent.
A key principle identified by Aberlour’s research was that decisions should be made on the basis of the impact of the circumstances on the child, measured against timescales that are crucial for the child, not the adult.
All agencies working with either the parent or the child, or both, need to contribute to the assessment.
Children’s needs should come first. The interests of children should be at the centre of all decisions and their needs are met, namely that they are appropriately cared for, are kept safe, are stimulated, and get to nursery or school.
The Scottish Executive’s action plan contains a proposal to introduce random drug tests for drug-misusing parents through contracts they would have to agree with service providers. Do you think this is workable?
The essence of keeping children safe is robust contractual agreements between parents and agencies working with them. In some cases drug testing may be helpful as part of that agreement so that parents can demonstrate that thay are working positively with agencies. It should only be undertaken the context of an ongoing protection plan for a child and would be one element in the overall package. Drug testing is no substitute for good, properly resourced care and support and the action plan does not suggest widespread random testing.
The action plan also says drug-misusers must be subject to multi-agency assessments. What difference would this make on the way agencies would have to work?
We have recognised that in protecting children there is often information held by a number of agencies such as education, social work, health – including GPs, Health Visitors and hospitals – and voluntary organisations which needs to be shared. Our view is that good assessment does need to be based on this shared inforamtion. The Scottish executive has indicated that legislation will be introduced in the near future requiring agencies to share information but if there was a stonger basis of trust locally between agencies we believe more could be done now.
What are the main barriers to improving services for children of drug-misusers, and how can they best be eradicated?
Children who are ‘hidden’ and who are affected by parental substance use are not being recognised. We have to identify these children in a way that does not increase their sense of stigma. Children hide what is going on in their lives for a variety of reasons for example – shame and stigma attached to being from a drug using family, fear of being removed, fear of consequences for parent/s. There is a clear role here for universal services.
There is also lack of services for children affected – we need to listen to what children and young people tell us they need, namely a range of services and supports that they can access. These include services for young carers and refuge places for young runaways. Sustainable funding for services for children and young people is essential.
We also need to get over to parents that acknowledging the problem does not mean children will be taken away. If parents fear that their children will be removed from them then they will not seek help. A debate which has headlines about removing children from drug using parents or proposals to prescribe the contraception pill along with a methadone script is not helpful in encouraging parents to seek help.
We need to remember that there are far more children affected by parental alcohol misuse than there are by parental drug misuse. The needs of all these children along with those affected by parental mental health are the same and we need to base our assessments and interventions on their needs