What you may or may not see
It is important that you consider not only what you see directly before you when you visit a family's home, but also consider the things you do not directly see.
Drug use, dealing or manufacturing
These are some of the signs of drug use, drug dealing or drug manufacturing:
- drugs or empty alcohol bottles in the home
- pipes, bongs, foil, spoons, lighters, scissors, alcohol swabs, plastic bags, syringes, fit cases or fit packs for needles (compact anonymous container to hold a clean supply of hypodermic syringes and to lock away used needles)
- the home smells like drugs or alcohol, strong ammonia or bleach (methamphetamine labs)
- other people who use drugs coming, staying or living in the home
- lots of people or cars coming and going at different times.
Current use, intoxication or withdrawal
These are some of the signs parents may be showing if they are currently using or experiencing withdrawal:
- smelling of alcohol or drugs
- feeling really hot or cold; dressing themselves or their child in a way that does not suit the temperature
- sweating or shaking excessively
- having glassy, glazed, pinned (small) pupils or dilated (wide open) pupils
- talking fast, nodding off, being paranoid, agitated, drowsy, aggressive or talking about things that are not real or possible or having delusions (psychosis).
Read more about alcohol and drugs:
- National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (2017), A Quick guide to Drugs & Alcohol
- Health Direct (2019) Drug abuse and (2017) How alcohol affects your health
- Alcohol and Drug Foundation
- The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has information on alcohol and drugs
- Queensland Health’s ADIS 24/7 Alcohol and drug support and information.
- Alcohol and Drug Foundation—Fact sheets
- QAIHC breakthrough Our Way for practice kits has information about ICE use, a useful resource when working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families.
Looking and listening for problematic alcohol and other drugs use
Remember that dangers for children can be obvious or can be well-hidden and subtle.
Here are some of the worries about problematic alcohol and other drugs use for you to consider in your safety assessment. The table below can be printed.
|Your worry for the child||What to look and listen for|
|Attention span and memory||
|History of drug or alcohol use||
|Current drug use treatment||
|Parenting, bonding and attachment||
|Relatively stable or chaotic drug use||
|Drug use planning||
|Provision of basic necessities||
|Procurement of drugs||
|Injecting/smoking drug use||
|Take-away methadone or buprenorphine||
*Methadone must be stored in a locked box that is not easily accessible and not in the fridge. All medication should be kept out of reach of children.
|Family social network||
|Willingness to accept support||
|Perception of the situation||
You will need to determine whether a parent is capable of protecting their child and can follow the safety plan. There are ways you can assess their protective abilities. These are explored in the following paragraphs:
Listening for change talk
Knowing which stage a parent is at in the change cycle can be useful in understanding how ready they are to make changes for recovery. Listen to parents to see how willing (ready), motivated (their intention) and able they are to do what is needed to keep their child safe.
Read more about Prochaska and Diclemente’s stages of change to see what you can do help parents change and move forward
The safety and support network
This tool also helps practitioners to engage with and have conversations with family members about why a safety and support network is necessary, about the harms and worries, and about the role a network can play in keeping the child safe.
Does the parent understand they have an alcohol and other drugs problem that affects the safety of their child?
Have a discussion with them about:
- the times in their life when alcohol and other drugs use was not a problem
- times of the week or day that alcohol and other drugs use in not a problem now
- who they have called on to help
- who their child could call on
- whether the parent has sought treatment or worked with alcohol and other drugs services before.
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