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Talking with parents to assess risk

Practice prompt

Assessing risk means talking with parents on a regular basis about their alcohol and other drugs use, the stressors in their life and ways you can work together to get the best outcome for their child.

  • Parents are experts about their children, so ask them about their child. Are they able to relate to others, play, concentrate, participate and belong?
  • Are there challenges that make it hard for the parent to meet the child’s needs? (medical, special or behaviour needs?)
  • How does alcohol and other drugs use affect this?
  • How do parents experience their alcohol and other drugs use and how does their child experience this?

Read more about ideas on talking with parents about their history, the role alcohol and other drugs use plays in their life and their current use in the Working with parents section.

Questions about alcohol and other drugs use

What you need to find out What to ask the parent
How a parent pays for alcohol or other drugs
  • We all have to balance our money. I’m wondering how much of your income is spent on alcohol or drugs.
  • Would you say you pay your essential living costs before or after you purchase alcohol or drugs?
  • Are there days, like pay days, where you would buy more drugs or alcohol than on other days?
  • What does this mean for your use when you just get paid and when you won’t get paid for another few days or another week?
  • How do you manage to make ends meet?
  • What are some of the other ways you make money to buy alcohol or drugs?
  • Have there been times you have felt sad or guilty that your child has missed out on something because money has been spent on alcohol or drugs?
  • If you did not spend money on alcohol or drugs, what would you be spending it on?
  • How would this make a difference for your child?
  • What about things like after-school activities? If you had the extra money, what other things could your child get to do? Sport, dance or other activities?
  • Have there been times that alcohol and other drugs use has taken such control that it has stopped you buying food, paying rent, paying for school excursions or other things?
How a parent is using alcohol and other drugs
  • Can you tell me what you are using and how often you use?
  • Who is with you when you use?
  • Does this person use too?
  • Where are you when you use?
  • Where is your child?
  • Has your child ever seen you drink, smoke or inject?
  • How did they respond?
  • How did you respond?
  • Did you talk about this after?
  • How do you manage withdrawal?
  • Have there been times you have coped with it by having another drink or taking more drugs? Or do you experience the after-effects and withdrawal before you drink or use drugs again?
  • What is like for you?
  • How do you feel when you have used alcohol or other drugs, after the effects wear off or you are withdrawing?
  • When do you eat and sleep?
  • Is this the same for your child?
  • How predictable is your routine?
What alcohol and other drugs use patterns look like
  • If you think of the last few times that you drank alcohol or used drugs, what did that look like?
  • What has it been like for you? For your child?
  • Have there been times when things have gotten out of control or violent?
  • Have there ever been times someone has been hurt? How? Has anyone hurt you? Who?
  • What was the impact on you and your child?
How a parent experiences intoxication, comedown and withdrawal
  • Walk me through what it is like for you when you are substance-affected, when you are coming down and when you’re going through withdrawal.
  • What do you have control of at these times?
  • What things do you lose control of?
  • Do you think your behaviour changes?
  • Do you think it changes how you parent?
  • What would others say?
  • What do you think it is like for your child when they see you intoxicated? Going through withdrawal?
  • Has your child ever told you how it makes them feel?
  • What do you think it might be like for [child’s name]?

How a parent behaves when they are thinking about using alcohol and other drugs use  

  • I’m curious about how your alcohol and other drugs use affects your daily life. How much thinking space and energy does it take from your life?
  • Is it something you think about all the time or is it always in the back of your mind, and does it get in the way of doing other things?
  • What is like for you if you do not or cannot use alcohol or drugs?
  • How do you think these thoughts and feelings deprive your child?
  • Has it ever taken over so much that you have regretted doing something, like you were so driven to get alcohol or drugs that you left your child at home alone or took them with you to a place that you know isn’t safe?
  • What do you think that was like for [child’s name]?
How alcohol and other drugs use has taken control and what needs to change
  • How do you think your alcohol and other drugs use impacts on your life?
  • How would you say it hurts you physically and emotionally?
  • How does it hurt your child physically and emotionally?
  • What troubles you the most for you? for your child?
  • What do you think troubles your child the most?
  • What do others say troubles them?
  • If things do not change, what could or is likely to happen?
  • What do you think your child would ask you to change if they could find the words?
  • What else is going on in your life that makes this hard?
  • How do violence or mental health issues impact on your alcohol and other drugs use?
  • What do you think needs to change in your life for you to get back in control?


Questions about parenting

What you need to find out What to ask the parent
Feelings about being a parent
  • How do you feel about being a parent when you are intoxicated, experiencing the after-effects, going through withdrawal, and when you can’t obtain drugs or alcohol?
  • What do you enjoy about parenting?
  • What things do you wish could be different?
  • How does being a parent affect your alcohol and other drugs use?
  • What things do you like most about being a parent?
  • What things do you like least about it?
  • How does this change when you are intoxicated, experiencing the after-effects or withdrawing?
Disciplining children
  • What are the rules of the house?
  • What things does your child get in trouble for?
  • What do they get praised for?
  • What happens when they get in trouble?
  • How does being intoxicated, experiencing the after-effects, and going through withdrawal change the way you discipline your child?
  • Sometimes parents have told me they tend to be harsher at different times. Can you relate to that? What would your child say?
What is easy and hard about parenting
  • What are the things you find easiest to get done and keep on top of?
  • What are the things that are harder to keep on top of?
  • How does having people stay here or use with you help or make it harder or easier?
  • Tell me about looking after [your child]. What’s the easiest thing about looking after them?
  • What’s the hardest thing?
  • When things are hard, how do you cope?
  • Do the hard parts of parenting ever mean you want to drink or use drugs?
  • What other things do you do to deal with the hard parts?


Questions about care and supervision

What you need to find out What to ask the parent
Supervision of the child
  • How does alcohol and other drugs use, intoxication and withdrawal change the way you look after and supervise your child?
  • What level of supervision does [your child] need?
  • Do you think you are able to meet their needs all of the time?
  • Who helps supervise [your child] when you are using, experiencing the after-effects or experiencing withdrawal?
  • Are there times when [your child] watches over their brothers and sisters?
  • What do you think some of the worries are if your child is not supervised properly?
  • Could they get out on the road?
  • Could they go for a swim without you knowing?
  • Does your child make their own meals?
  • Do you ever worry that they could get burnt?
  • Would they know what to do if something was on fire?
Day-to-day care of the child
  • How do intoxication, the after-effects, withdrawal and planning to obtain alcohol or drugs get in the way of day-to-day life and caring for the child?
  • Has your use of alcohol and other drugs use changed the people you spend your time with and hang out with?
  • Do you have any worries about these people being around your child?
  • What things do you think your child can do for themselves
  • What is okay for them to do?
  • What is not okay?
  • When you cannot look after the child or do what they need, who looks after them?
  • Are there times [your child] looks after you or the younger kids? Would you say this is part of their responsibilities?
Routines for the child
  • What does a typical day look like for you? What about your child?
  • Where does drinking or using drugs fit into the day-to-day routines?
  • Would you say things just happen from day to day, or do you have a set routine you follow?
  • How do your kids know what needs to be done, what they need to do and what you will do for them?
  • Does your alcohol and other drugs use impact on when you go to bed, when you wake up, and when you feel hungry?
  • What does this mean for your child’s bedtime, wake up time and eating times?
The degree of predictability in the child’s daily life
  • Do you think your kids know what to expect each day? What do you think it might be like for them when they can’t predict when they will get fed, when you will put them to bed and when you wake them up?
  • What are the things that are unpredictable in their life?
  • What have they learnt to expect from you and other adults about how their needs will be met?
  • What chaos do you think exists in their lives?


Questions about bonding and attachment

What you need to find out What to ask the parent
The bond between parent and child
  • When do you feel closest to your child?
  • How does alcohol and other drugs use change how close and connected you feel?
  • What things about each of your children make you feel close to them?
  • What things about them push you away?
  • How do you feel about them when you are trying to score, use, come down or going through withdrawal and they are demanding your attention?
  • How do you manage these times?
  • When do you think your child feels the safest and loved by you?
  • When do you think they may not?
  • Do you think they have ever been scared of you?
A child’s attachment to their parent
  • How does your child tell you they need you?
  • How would they show you they want your attention?
  • What happens if you are preoccupied by alcohol or drug use at that time?
  • Tell me about the last time your child was upset or hurt themselves. Who did they go to for help or for a cuddle?
  • Would you say your child can count on you every time they need you, sometimes, or none of the time?
  • What makes you say this?
  • How does your use impact on being able to respond to your child the way you want to?


Questions about safety and protection

What you need to find out What to ask the parent
People, places, practices and paraphernalia
  • What places and people is your child around?
  • How confident are you that your child feels safe?
  • Are there things you wish your child had not seen or been a part of?
Intoxication and withdrawal
  • What does your child see when you drink or use drugs?
  • Do they see you or others use?
  • How do you make sure they don’t see you at these times?
  • What you do think it might be like for your child to see you intoxicated, experiencing the after-effects or going through withdrawal?
  • How do you think they make sense of this? What are they doing at these different times?
  • What are other people in the house doing?
  • Do you think there are times when they are more worried about you? Less worried about you?
  • Do you ever talk about your drug use with your child?
  • What do you think it would be like for them to talk to me about this?
  • What do you think they might say?
  • Are there things you are worried they might say?
Keeping a child safe from harm
  • How aware are you of any dangers or risks that might exist in or outside your home?
  • What times of your alcohol and other drugs use, like buying, intoxication or coming down, do you think could be risky for your child?
  • How could your alcohol and other drugs useuse impact on how you respond to your child if they needed you? Has there been a time you wished you had been able to respond but could not? Have there been times your child has hurt themselves?
  • Would you be quicker or slower to react? Would you be alert enough to see these dangers?
  • What is sleep like for you?
  • Do you go into a heavy sleep after using alcohol and other drugs use?
  • Would your child be able to wake you if they needed you or were worried about something?
  • Would you be able to wake if you hear them crying?


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