Calls are growing for compulsory training for social workers on substance misuse amid concern that families receive inadequate support to overcome drugs and alcohol.
Training experts have joined the British Association of Social Workers, the charity Drugscope and social care organisation Turning Point in warning of a long-standing knowledge gap in the profession.
The high proportion of child protection cases where drug or alcohol misuse is a factor is one of the main drivers behind the campaign.
This issue was highlighted by Drugscope in a consultation for a new drug strategy for England and Wales, due to be launched by the Home Office in December. The charity said all social workers working with families should be required to have substance misuse training as part of their professional development.
Other experts, including child protection consultant Perdeep Gill and Hilary Burgess, senior academic adviser from the Social Policy and Social Work Subject Centre, called for improvements to pre-qualifying social work training.
“Clearly it would be better if all initial qualifying programmes included issues of alcohol/substance misuse in their curricula,” said Burgess, who sits on a panel of experts currently reviewing the social work degree curriculum in England.
At present universities providing the social work degree must include training on certain skills, but are free to choose which subject areas to cover. Experts believe this has led to patchy coverage of important issues.
“People are covering [substance misuse] in different ways and probably with different levels of success,” Burgess said.
Gill said it was important that training should focus not only on general awareness of different types of illegal drugs but “assessments, risk, how to deal with substance misuse among clients and the impact it has on children”.
“Social workers won’t provide a holistic approach [if training is not improved] and they’ll expect someone else to do it, and not understand the child protection issues related to substance misuse,” she said.
Burgess explained that the education working group of the Social Work Reform Board, of which she is a member, was discussing how the degree might be strengthened to take into account different areas of need and user groups. Substance misuse was being addressed alongside relationship breakdown, parenting problems, and domestic violence.
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