Children&YP affected by parental substance misuse


  Children and Young People affected by Parental Substance Misuse (CAPSM)


Substance misuse can involve either alcohol or drug misuse (and can include prescription as well as illegal drugs). The risks and impacts on children of substance-misusing parents and carers are known and well-researched.


Substance misuse during pregnancy can have a particularly significant health impact on the unborn and the new born child (infant drug dependency, Foetal alcohol syndrome, Neo-natal alcohol syndrome). Ante-natal and post-natal services working with other key agencies are critical to ensure the risks to babies affected in this way are reduced. In Fife, the NHSVulnerable in Pregnancy Service working with the relevant agencies effectively addresses issues of substance misuse in pregnancy and post birth. Annual data is published by the service.


Parental substance misuse can result in sustained abuse, neglect, maltreatment, problematic behaviour, disruption in primary care-giving, social isolation and stigmatisation of children. Substance-misusing parents/carers often lack the ability to provide structure or discipline in family life. Poor parenting can impede child development through poor attachment and the long-term effect of maltreatment can be complex. The capability of parents/carers to be consistent, warm and emotionally responsive to their children can be overwhelmed by the preoccupation of substance misuse.


Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is a serious health problem that affects children and their families whose mothers have misused alcohol during pregnancy.


Babies born with FAS tend to weigh less and be shorter than normal. They usually suffer from:


  • smaller heads;
  • deformed facial features;
  • abnormal joints and limbs;
  • poor coordination;
  • problems with learning;
  • short memories.


Many parents/carers are not open about their substance dependencies and the impact it has on their lives and their ability to care for children. It is vital that agencies have effective information sharing processes that allow the sharing of appropriate information relating to children’s safety.


It is important that all practitioners working with drug or alcohol abusing parents/carers understand the potential effects that substance misuse can have on a child, both in terms of the indirect impact on the care environment as well as direct exposure to the use of these substances. For staff in all agencies dealing with substance misusing parents/carers the best interests of the child should always be of paramount concern.


More detailed information about the impact of parental substance misuse on children and young people and the need to address this from a child protection perspective can be found in the following documents which includes the refreshed guidance for adult and child & family services pracitioners " Promoting the wellbeing of young people affected by parental substance misuse", along with a reflective practice tool and a 7 minute briefing for use at operational team level.






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