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Talking with parents

Talking with parents to assess safety

Before speaking to a parent about their problematic alcohol and other drugs (AOD) use, take time to think about how they may be feeling about it and the anxiety, fear and shame it may bring up. Read more about this in the Working with parents section.

Be aware that your safety assessment may trigger many emotions and responses for parents that you may need to help them manage. Be prepared, empathetic and clear about what you need to speak about on the first visit. Overwhelming a parent on the first meeting may hinder your relationship and ultimately your ability to understand the dangers that might be present.

Why it’s hard for parents to talk

There are many reasons why a parent may hesitate to talk to you.

It may be because they:

  • are worried about being arrested or put in prison if they open up about their illegal drug use
  • worry that you will remove their child if they admit they drink or use
  • feel you will judge them and look down on them
  • are angry that someone ‘dobbed’ them in
  • do not think you will understand what it is like, do not care about their story, and will only see them in a stigmatised way (as a junkie or alcoholic)
  • feel embarrassed, stigmatised or ashamed
  • are scared you will see evidence of their AOD use if you are inside the home
  • are intoxicated or experiencing withdrawal.

How parents might respond

Be aware of the different ways parents might respond to your presence and your questions about their problematic AOD use.

A Mum or Dad may:

  • be hostile, angry and not want to talk to you
  • deny or minimise their use or the incident that triggered a report
  • say they don't use in front of their child so their child is not harmed by it
  • say they are a better parent when they use
  • not want you to come inside the home or refuse you entry
  • be overly willing and quick to agree to everything so you leave, but without any intention to carry through. (This is false compliance.)

Conversation ideas

Here are some conversation ideas that may be helpful when inviting parents to talk:

  • I know you’re probably worried about what the consequences are if we talk, but if we don't talk, I won’t understand what it’s like for you or your child. I’ll only be able to go on the information we have and I don't want to do that, I’m keen to hear what this is really like for you and what it means for how safe [child’s name] is.
  • I know that your AOD use is just one part of your life and there are many other things that go alongside it. We don't have to talk about everything today. Today is about how we can make sure [child’s name] is safe while we work together over time.
  • I have some things about your AOD use that I need to talk about today, so I know that [child’s name] will be safe. I know that you love [child’s name] and that you’re doing the best you can, and you’re probably really worried about me being here. I’m not interested in just your AOD use; I want to hear about all the ways you care and love [child’s name], as well as what her/his needs are. What’s the best way for us to talk today?
  • I’m keen to work with you to make sure we both really understand what it is like for [child’s name] and how I can help you be the parent you want to be.
  • Sometimes parents hold back from talking about their AOD use. Sometimes they’re worried about what might happen if they are up-front about it. I understand that. Can you relate to that? What would hold you back from talking with me today?
  • I’m interested to learn more about your story, how you got here and if there are things that you would like help to change.
  • Have you tried talking with anyone about this before? What was that like? How did it make you feel?

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