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Interventions Supporting and Meeting the Needs of Children and Young People who have Drugs Misusing Parents or Carers


The Department of Health has commissioned the Policy Research Bureau to undertake a study on interventions for children and young people with drugs misusing carers in England as part of Phase II of their Drug Misuse Research Initiative (ROUTES).

It is estimated that in England and Wales between 200,000 and 300,000 children under the age of 16 (almost three per cent of all children in that age group) have one or both parents with a serious drugs problem. Past literature has suggested that the outcomes for these children are poor in terms of their physical, intellectual, emotional and social development and this group are also at greater risk of becoming substance misusers themselves. One of the aims of the Government's programme of action on combating substance misuse is to ensure 'appropriate and specific interventions' for the young people who are most likely to develop serious drug problems (United Kingdom Anti-Drugs Co-ordinating Unit, 1998).

In the past the traditional response to parental substance misuse was placing children of misusers into care. However, in recent years, services have been developed to provide support to children and young people whose carers are substance (alcohol and/or drugs) misusers so that children can remain at home with their families. Research carried out in 2002 for the Inquiry by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (Hidden Harm) identified around 80 such specialist interventions in England that provide a service for the children of substance misusers. However, little is known about the impact and effectiveness of these services or the extent to which they meet the needs of their users.

What does the research focus on?

The broad aim of this study will be to explore the range of interventions aimed at supporting children and young people aged five to 16 who live in homes where at least one carer is a drug misuser. The study will also explore a number of services in greater depth to establish the extent to which they meet the needs of their users.

The objectives are:
  • To explore how children with similar needs (such as those with alcohol misusing parents) are supported

  • To identify which services are available to support the children of substance misusers
  • To explore how these services are configured and operate (whether they belong in the voluntary or statutory sector; their referral methods and criteria; their aims and objectives; client group; service delivery etc)
  • To create a typology of services which aim to meet the needs of children and young people whose parents misuse drugs and to identify from the typology a number of such services for intensive study
  • To establish the extent to which these services meet the needs of their users, taking into account the views of the children and young people and of service providers
  • To explore whether any services are better suited than others to meet the needs of particular groups of children such as those from ethnic minority groups, younger children, or those where the drugs misusing parent is not a resident in the family home

What does the research involve?

The study will be conducted in three phases and will use a combination of both qualitative and quantitative methods. The first phase will comprise familiarisation with current literature on the effects of susbstance misuse on the families of misusers. The second phase involves a scoping study of services available in England to support children of drugs misusers. From this stage we will generate a typology of services and interventions. The third and final phase will comprise an in-depth study, combining qualitative and quantitative data, of around ten services selected from the categories generated in the second phase. The aim of this phase is to identify 'promising' interventions which work in supporting and meeting the needs of children and young people with substance misusing carers.
Timescale and final products of the research

The research is to be completed within a 34 month period from June 2005 until March 2008. A final report will be submitted to the Department of Health. In addition, a summary of findings appropriate for a practitioner audience will be prepared with the National Treatment Agency. Feedback to the participating services, children and young people will also be provided in an appropriate form.

For further details, contact Judy Corlyon

Last updated March 2007