Social workers don’t know enough about substance misuse, study warns

Councils replicating training provided through degree programmes, research from the University of Bedfordshire has found

Social workers face gaps in substance use knowledge caused by a duplication of training provision from local authorities and qualifying degree programmes, research has found.

The study, which was presented at the Joint Social Work Education Conference last month, compared substance use training provided by all local authority training departments and qualifying social work programmes.

It identified the effects of drugs and alcohol and the reasons people use and misuse as the most covered topics by both groups, which signalled duplication of basic training for practitioners.

“What we are hearing from the front line is that there is a lot of duplication going on and we need to ensure that social workers are equipped with at least the basics and that knowledge is then built on,” said Sarah Galvani, professor of social work at the University of Bedfordshire and co-author of the study.

“There is currently very much a postcode-lottery approach to social work education and local authority training on substance use and that is not okay from the point of the service user.”

The study found that although 83% of local authorities provided alcohol and drug use training in the last year, less than a quarter of it was mandatory.

The majority of respondents from qualifying social work programmes integrated teaching on substance use into the general curriculum, but more than half of this teaching covered only four of the alcohol and drug use topic areas. More than a third of the programmes also offered integrated teaching only, rather than delivering specialist modules or sessions on substance use.

Topic areas covered the least were also similar in both groups, with prescribed drug use, gender differences and ethnicity and cultural issues within substance abuse highlighted as areas where training was lacking.

Galvani added: “There is a need for all our social workers to have at least an awareness of where substance use intersects with the issues that are presented to them within their specialist area of practice.

“Asking questions on personal and sensitive issues in people’s lives is something that social workers have been doing forever, it is engaging with the topic that is different.”

The study received responses from 63 qualifying social work programmes and 94 local authority training departments and followed a 2010 survey, which found that over a third of qualified social workers had not received substance use training.

It concluded that more partnership working was needed between local authorities and social work education bodies to ensure there was a strategy in place to plug the gaps in training.

“Partnership working is a really cost efficient and effective way of making the most locally with the resources that there are available,” said Galvani.

“There are some examples of really good practice both in social work education and in local authority training so we don’t need to reinvent the wheel, we just need to look at what others are doing and learn from the good practice that is out there.”


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4 Responses to Social workers don’t know enough about substance misuse, study warns

  1. Caroline Skinner August 6, 2014 at 11:19 am #

    I totally agree – I used to teach a Masters module at a university on substance misuse scrapped as not seen as mandatory, I now deliver course on dual diagnosis work (substance misuse / adult mental health) for local authorities / charities & they are always over subscribed! substance misuse should be mandatory training as relevant to all sectors in social work and social workers are still not confident enough in their knowledge to ask sensitive questions about particularity alcohol misuse (as society’s favourite drug)

    Caroline Skinner

  2. Julia Armstrong August 6, 2014 at 12:56 pm #

    I am lucky enough to be a specialised substance misuse social worker for a social services drug and alcohol team jointly funded by the borough and the local DAAT. I feel priviledged to not only work in this role but also to have this team in our borough. I was shocked to find out that this is not standard practice across the UK; The need is most certainly there…..

  3. Beth August 7, 2014 at 7:37 am #

    Why the sensationalist headline Community Care! Again social workers don’t know enough! We are generally not specialists but we do have multi agency skls and often obtain specialist information/joint work and know enough to assess families and the impact! Yes improve training but don’t use the aparent duplication as an excuse to highlight aparent gaps in knowledge! I have yet to meet a social worker who knows everything!!!

  4. maria August 9, 2014 at 11:41 am #

    i used to be a drugs worker/womens risk reduction/outreach worker for 10 years & used to work with pregnant substance misusers/sex workers, where most of their babies were taken into care. i also have personal life experience relating to substance misuse. i am now a social worker, working in a LAC team in childrens services. most of the children, young people & parents that i work with have been affected by substance misuse. i was quite shocked at the lack of confidence, knowledge & experience of other social workers, also there’s not enough training for social workers (this should be mandatory). i think every local authority should have specialised substance misuse social workers/teams!