When working with young offenders the most difficult client is one from a grossly dysfunctional family. When that dysfunction involves parental drug addiction, it becomes even more difficult to rehabilitate “your client”. Dr Galvani (see p16) identifies the structural issues within social work which make this such an intractable problem; namely, the concept of “your client”.
When the drug addiction impacts on the parenting (not all drug use automatically leads to child protection proceedings) the many weaknesses in our social work infrastructure are revealed.
The main one is the separation between adult and children’s services. But even within adults’ services drug addiction is treated by a specialist team, ensuring drug abuse remains a mystery to mainstream social workers. These weakness prevent effective support to the family because the family is separated into clients and the individual clients themselves are treated as different clients for different issues.
But in my experience the only intervention that works with families where parental drug dependence is the core problem is multi-systemic family therapy. This is an intensive intervention, usually over three to five months, where structured therapy is very focused on small targets each week. The ultimate goal is to prevent a child going into care or ending up in custody.
Supporting the family as a family and not as individual clients, where the drug dependence is viewed as a part of the dysfunction rather than the problem, is the only way to unravel these complex issues.
Dean Woodward is assistant director of Lambeth Specialist Youth Services
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