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Building positive relationships for family

No matter where a child lives, you will need to ensure that both the child and parents have the opportunity to build, connect and repair relationships to promote a robust safety and support network.

Relationships and strong community or family connections are the cornerstone to child safety. So it is essential that a safety and support network be developed or maintained.

Safety and support networks

A safety and support network is a team of family, friends, community members, carers and professionals who are willing to meet with the child or young person, the family, and Child Safety and work together to keep the child or young person safe.

Network members are not ‘add-ons’ to the case work but are integral to case and safety planning. In this integrated practice approach, network members are essential to enhancing safety as they keep in regular contact with the child or young person and their families, take specific actions when situations become fragile or dangerous, and listen and respond to the child or young person and their worries.

An important difference between a safety and support network and a more general ‘group of concerned people’ is that safety and support network members know the harms that have already been experienced and the worries and goals for the future.

They know the risks of future harm to the child or young person should nothing change in the family or if new issues emerge. The key premise for any safety and support network is that network members are:

  • informed
  • willing to help
  • clear about what they must do to respond.

Use the following list of questions with parents to help identify or develop a safety and support network with the children and parents.

Who is currently in your life?

  • What role or connection do they have with your alcohol and other drugs (AOD) use now or in the past?
  • Are they a positive or negative influence?
  • What do they think, say or do about your AOD use?
  • Who could be in your life but is not?
  • What is stopping them from being in your life now?
  • What do you think their wish for you and your child is?

Who is helpful?

  • Who is in your life now who would support you in making the changes you want?
  • Who has been in your life before who could help you if they were still in your life?
  • Who could be in your life to support you in being the parent you want to be?

Who makes it harder?

  • Who is in your life now who gets in the way of you making the changes you want?
  • Who has been in your life before who has got in the way or made it harder for you to change?

Looking at relationships connected to alcohol or other drug use

Talk to parents about how the various people in their lives:

  • influence their AOD use
  • feel about the parent making positive changes
  • feel about treatment and recovery.

These conversations are often complex, as AOD can play a significant part in the social lives and relationships of people with problematic AOD use.

These relationships may be important and meaningful. If a parent senses you are asking them to cut ties with certain friends or groups, they may feel challenged and upset.

It is not your role to tell parents who they can and cannot spend time with when they are not looking after their child (such as when the child is at school or being looked after by someone else).

In your conversations, help a parent explore how the relationships in their life impact on their substance use and parenting. Your conversations should help a parent come to their own conclusions about who is a positive influence in helping them seek treatment and recover.

If you think a parent’s friend, partner or anyone else in their life is a potential risk to a child, you will need to:

  • have up-front and frank conversations about this with parents
  • develop safety plans that help keep their child safe
  • be clear about what is required (and expected) to keep their child safe.

For example: A parent may see and spend time with people who drink or use drugs and it may take time for them to let go of these relationships. This will be their choice as they move through treatment and recovery. However, you will need to be clear that although they maintain these relationships, their child should not be spending time with anyone who causes a risk.

Further reading

Read more about having conversations about AOD use with parents in the Working with parents section

TED talk: Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong

This TED talk with Johann Hari challenges the way we look at AOD dependence and the powerful role that ‘connection’ plays when working with parents who struggle with their AOD use.

Johann Hari: Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong

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