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Leaning in as an ally to help parents engage

Alcohol and other drug use affects how parents work with Child Safety and other supports. This leads to people describing or labelling parents by their behaviour, using words like:

  • unwilling
  • disengaged
  • lacking insight
  • resistant.

Rather than defining parents in this way, try to look beyond their behaviour and understand why they are responding in this way. Some of the obvious ways alcohol and other drugs may affect a parent’s engagement are:

  • their intoxication or withdrawal at different times
  • whether alcohol and other drugs is experienced alongside domestic violence, mental health concerns or other worries
  • stigma, shame, judgement or oppression.

These factors can have a big impact on the parent’s ability to:

  • talk, behave, feel and think
  • understand what is happening
  • acknowledge the problem and seek treatment
  • remain in treatment and sustain changes.


Domestic and family violence can exacerbate or contribute to a parent's alcohol and other drug use, and interfere with a parent's recovery efforts. Applying a Safe and Together lens to a family where alcohol and other drugs seems like the biggest worry can bring to light domestic and family violence concerns that were not previously considered. 

Talking with a parent about their alcohol and other drugs use and the underlying reasons for it becoming a problem is likely to trigger many emotions for them. Your compassion and curiosity are important.

What gets in the way

What to say

Being overwhelmed by the idea of reducing or stopping alcohol and other drugs use.

The thought of reducing or stopping their use of alcohol and other drugs can be extremely overwhelming. It can increase their stress, fear and worry, which in turn makes them want to use.

How does the idea of cutting back or stopping your use make you feel or think?

What worries you the most?

What might be the good things about stopping?

Stigma and shame.

The stigma of Child Safety being involved in their life alongside the stigma of being labelled a parent who is a drug user causes shame, which can stop parents from talking with you.

What are your thoughts and feelings about me being here today?

How does it add to pressure for you?

Some parents have told me it makes them feel like a bad parent or ashamed—can you relate to this?

Own childhood experiences.

Because of a parent's own childhood experiences, their ideas, values and beliefs about what is normal alcohol and other drugs use and what is not may differ to yours.

Lots of parents I work with have grown up with alcohol and other drugs use in their lives and this has been ‘normal’ for them.

Some parents find it hard to understand why I’m here talking about their kids, when they grew up in the same way. Can you relate to that?

Different perspectives about child safety and harm.

Parents may hold a different perspective about whether or not their alcohol and other drugs use impacts on their parenting or their child.

I think the thing we can agree on is that you love [child] and you would never want to intentionally hurt them. Having me here today talking with you about whether [child] is safe and how your alcohol and other drugsuse might be affecting them must be confronting and frightening.

We do not need to agree on everything and it is likely that we won’t always. But what we do need to agree on is that the safety of [child] will be the number one thing we have to be real about.

I’m always up-front with you if there is a problem and if [child] is not safe. I need you to be up-front about what you think and what you are prepared to do. Can we agree on that?


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