MSPs have been warned against making “easy assumptions” about the lifestyle of drug and alcohol users when issuing guidance on taking children into care.
Not all parents who misuse substances experience difficulties with family life, child care or parenting capacity, according to Commissioner for Children and Young People Tam Baillie.
Holyrood’s Education and Culture Committee has queried whether “general assumptions” can be made about the fitness of some parents to care for their children, particularly whether drug or alcohol misuse “would create a presumption that a child should be removed”.
Mr Baillie said: “I would advise caution against this approach. We must be mindful of easy assumptions that can be made about different groups and resist the urge to prejudge without individual assessment. A full assessment of each child’s individual situation is what is required.
“The introduction to Getting Our Priorities Right stresses that not all parents who misuse substances experience difficulties with family life, child care or parenting capacity. Equally, not all children in such an environment are adversely affected in the short or longer term.
“It reminds us that children themselves have different strengths and vulnerabilities and even children in the same family can have very different experiences and development outcomes. In my view, each case should be assessed on its individual merits. The more obvious the absence of protective factors and the presence of risk factors, the easier the decision.
“Yet most instances will be a mixture of protective and risk factors. At this point the relative risks need to be considered carefully, hence the need for robust assessment tools and skilled workers who are knowledgeable about attachment theory and how this relates to their practice.
“Co-ordinated support is needed when engagement takes place with other specialist services. For instance, where there is alcohol abuse, any approach must ensure that a parent with an alcohol addiction who becomes pregnant is connected with community midwives and health visitors. Given what we now know about foetal alcohol syndrome and harm to the child, pre-birth planning is essential to this so that families are supported at the earliest possible stage.”
Mr Baillie will appear before the committee for its inquiry into decision making on whether to take children into care.