One of the UK’s leading drug and alcohol hair testing firms is pressing the government to make the tests mandatory for all foster carers, Community Care has learned.
Avi Lasarow, chief executive of Trimega Laboratories, revealed that his company was already seeking to expand the use of the tests to map substance abuse among prospective adopters. Now it plans to lobby the government to test the UK’s 35,000 foster carers.
Tests of the hair of parents are currently used by social workers to help determine whether a child should be taken into care.
“In almost all care cases where drugs or alcohol are suspected, these tests are being used,” Lasarow said. “We feel there’s a solid child protection case for it to be looked at in regards to both adoption and also approving foster carers.
“My argument would be that hair testing has markedly helped professionals take decisions in child protection cases and deciding whether to take children into care. Surely it will also help decision-makers feel confident that a person will pose no risk at all as a foster parent to a child who may be coming from a very traumatic environment.
“From the foster carer perspective, they already go through so many tests and assessments that this would simply be a very small part of that. I can’t see why they would object.”
However, fostering groups were outraged by the suggestion.
“Foster carers and prospective adopters are already subject to an appropriately vigorous assessment process to determine their suitability for parenting looked after children,” said Elaine Dibben, a consultant with the British Association of Adoption and Fostering.
“There would be no reason or justification for any widescale testing of this group of people who are coming forward to care for and improve children’s lives.”
Such a move should only be considered if there was evidence that foster carers with substance abuse problems were being approved, said Harvey Gallagher, chief executive of the Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers.
“In safeguarding there is already a proven issue with substance abuse among many of these birth families but I don’t know of any evidence that this is a problem with foster carers and I think there are other areas we should be focusing our money and efforts on.”
Kevin Williams, chief executive of The Adolescent and Children’s Trust, one of the biggest providers of fostering services, said he would be appalled by such a proposal, adding “we only drug and alcohol test birth parents if there is a history of substance misuse in their past”.
He also pointed out that many foster carers also had birth children and so any social drinking had already been established as not posing a risk to their own children.
The Department for Education failed to comment before Community Care went to press.
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