Huge gap in substance misuse training for newly qualified social workers

More than half of newly-qualified social workers feel inadequately prepared to work with people with drug and alcohol problems, a Home Office-funded study has found.

The findings, based on responses from 248 social workers, revealed a large gap in substance misuse training, with one-third reporting they had received none. Half the respondents said they had received half a day or less training, despite the high prevalence of problems among service users.

The study, by Bedfordshire University, cited evidence showing that 62% of care proceedings involved parental substance misuse issues, and increases in alcohol use among older people. And respondents estimated that, on average, half the service users they were working with had problems relating to drug or alcohol use. In areas including mental health the proportion was even higher.

Risk assessments

But nearly three-quarters of social workers said they wanted more training on assessing risks related to drug and alcohol misuse and two-thirds said they needed to know how to talk about the issues. These concerns were particularly highlighted by those working in local authorities and in children and families services.

The study of social workers who qualified in 2006 and 2007 concluded there were “serious shortfalls” in training and called for radical reform. It recommended making substance misuse training a compulsory part of social work education and called for a full audit of staff skills.

Half the respondents were working with children and families, and only 2% worked in settings specialising in substance misuse.


The study’s co-author, Dr Sarah Galvani, said that many newly-qualified social workers were “frustrated” by the lack of training.

She added: “The implications of social workers being unprepared for the issues facing them in practice are huge. 

“Alcohol and drug problems, often overlapping with domestic abuse, are repeatedly cited by practitioners as the key issues they need to address in child protection work, and we are seeing more practitioners reporting substance use issues in mental health practice and with older people. 

“The question is, what needs to happen before social work educators listen to social workers on these issues?”

The study is the first to examine substance misuse training needs among social workers. It follows recent calls from the British Association of Social Workers for more support from practitioners in this area.

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More information

Full study

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