Parenting and Substance Misuse: Understanding Accounts and Realities in Child Protection Contexts

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  1. Sally Holland*,
  2. Donald Forrester,
  3. Annie Williams and
  4. Alex Copello

  1. Dr Sally Holland is Reader in Social Work in the Cardiff School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University. She is author of Child and Family Assessment in Social Work Practice (Sage, 2nd edn, 2011). Donald Forrester is the Director of the Tilda Goldberg Centre and Professor of Social Work Research
    at the University of Bedfordshire. He is the author, with Judith Harwin, of Parents Who Misuse Drugs or Alcohol: Effective Interventions in Social Work and Child Protection (Wiley, 2011). Annie Williams is a research associate in DECIPHer, the Centre for the Development and Evaluation of Complex
    Interventions for Public Health Improvement, in the Cardiff School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University. Dr Williams conducted
    all interviews in the research study reported in this paper. Alex Copello is Professor of Addiction Research, University of
    Birmingham, and Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Addiction Services, Birmingham.
  1. *Correspondence to Dr Sally Holland, School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University, Glamorgan Building, King Edward VII Avenue,
    Cardiff, CF10 3WT, UK. E-mail: Hollands1{at}
  • Accepted November 2012.


This paper reports qualitative findings from a mixed-methods evaluation of an intervention for families affected by substance
misuse and child protection concerns. The study involved twenty-seven families, including eighty-four children. The data illustrate
the various impacts of substance misuse on family life, including neglect, instability and physical and sexual abuse. During
semi-structured interviews, many of the parents went some way to counter highly stigmatised identities through confessing
previous parental failings and demonstrating the distance they have travelled since then. A small minority maintained that
they have been wrongly labelled as inadequate parents. Additionally, parents vividly recalled hardships and abuse, underlining
the challenging material realities of their lives. For most, domestic abuse was a particularly dominant factor. Implications
for practice are outlined in the conclusion of the paper.

Key words

  • Alcohol
  • child protection
  • child abuse
  • drugs
  • domestic violence
  • substance misuse
  • parents

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