Families that have alcohol and mental health problems: a template for partnership working
Values and principles
Collaborative working in services for children where parents have mental health or alcohol problems draws on several developments in social care, which are briefly discussed below.
- The knowledge base informing those offering assistance to children and families and protecting children is now greater than ever. Improved treatments for severe mental illness can mean fewer side effects, an important benefit for parents caring for children.
- Parenting is a complicated task and is influenced by characteristics in the parent, the child and the environment. Precisely at what point parents need help or things start to go wrong is not always obvious except with hindsight. Research shows that many families struggle for a long time with a high level of need before approaching social services.
- There is more awareness of the needs of disabled parents. Parents with mental health and alcohol problems have needs in common with other disabled parents. The links between the responsibility to keep children safe and to provide services to families to help with parenting are currently much debated.
- There is a growing recognition of the needs, tasks and roles of children and young people with disabled parents. This involves how best to protect these children from taking excessive or inappropriate care of their parents and ensuring their own well-being and development. This includes providing timely and appropriate services to parents to support their parenting roles.
- There is a need for agencies to work together and a concern about how to achieve this. Many services are being re-organised into separate care groups. Workers often focus on either the adults or the children and feel inexperienced when moving outside their perceived remit.
In summary, the team found some key principles that underpin the template protocol. The welfare of children is always paramount. They must always be protected from actual or likely significant harm. All workers, including those who provide services for adults, have a duty of care and responsibility to identify children who may be at risk and to act appropriately. Parents want to do their best to care for their children. It is government policy to promote the wellbeing of children through timely and appropriate support.
Workers from all agencies, including those who work with adults, have a responsibility to identify individuals with mental health and alcohol problems who are parents. They should consult with parents about the help and services they need to enable them to care for their children. Any areas of concern and the involvement of children and families services should be discussed fully with the parents, providing that this does not compromise the safety of the child.
Lack of consensus about information sharing and confidentiality still inhibits collaboration between professionals, agencies and families. Authoritative guidance is given in: Working Together to Safeguard Children (1999) paragraphs 7.27 to 7.46. Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need (2000) paragraphs 346-357.