Scottish staff levels ‘too low’ to assess impact of parental drug use

Social workers in four Scottish councils are concerned that a new
proposed protocol for dealing with parents with substance misuse
problems could not be implemented with current staffing levels.

The inter-agency pan-Midlothian working group (which covers
Edinburgh, Midlothian, East Lothian and West Lothian Councils) drew
up the protocol on the recommendation of the O’Brien report into
neonatal abstinence syndrome. This followed the death in 2001 of
11-week-old Caleb Ness, who died as a result of a brain haemorrhage
caused by his father shaking him.

The investigation into Caleb’s death highlighted a catalogue of
failures by the police, social services and other agencies. These
included failing to take into account Caleb’s mother’s drug
dependency, failing to carry out an assessment of his father even
though he had a conviction for serious assault, and the failure of
police to pass vital information on to other agencies.

The guidelines set out minimum standards of practice for all
agencies that come into contact with children and substance

However, some professionals believe it would create too much extra
work with existing staffing levels. It asks drug and alcohol action
team workers to assess the impact of a parent’s substance misuse on
their family, and child care agencies to find out whether parents
have substance misuse problems.

Inter-agency group chair Dr Jacqueline Mok said: “We are not
suggesting everyone goes down the child protection route but we
need professionals to ask these questions and come to a decision as
to whether a child is at risk or in need.”

However, she admitted it could result in more work for social
workers, with particular resource issues around training, staffing
and information recording systems.

One Edinburgh child protection worker, who wished to remain
anonymous, said front-line staff were fully stretched. “We are
already involved in more report writing, case conferences and court
visits, and the four-week timescale for completing assessments is
very ambitious,” she said.

The consultation deadline has been extended until the end of
December after which final guidelines will be published.

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