3.9.5 Children and Young People who Misuse Substances


A summary of this chapter is available – see the Factsheets section in Local Resources.


Safeguarding Children Living in Families with Drug and / or Alcohol Misuse Protocol


This chapter was updated in October 2019. The chapter was given a general refresh throughout.

1. Introduction

The purpose of this document is to assist workers across all agencies to identify cases where action is needed to Safeguarding and Promoting the Welfare of Children as a result of their alcohol and / or drug use.

Drugs and alcohol can often play a role in the lives of young people, whether that be curiosity, experimentation, recreational or in some cases problematic use.

Not every young person who uses drugs or alcohol develops problems, many young people experiment with substances and not all experimentation leads to continued use or misuse.For some young people and/or those where there are fewer protective factors, substance misuse can contribute to:

  • Poor mental health and emotional wellbeing;
  • Potential issues at school, college or work;
  • Breakdown of family and peer relationships;
  • Engaging in risky behaviours.

2. Vulnerable Groups

Research demonstrates that some groups of young people are more vulnerable to problematic substance misuse:

  • Children and young people involved in anti-social behaviour or the criminal justice system
  • Children and young people who are Looked After by the local authority;
  • Children and young people leaving local authority care;
  • Children and young people excluded from mainstream education or with frequent missing form education episodes;
  • Young people without secure accommodation;
  • Children and young people being sexually exploited;
  • Children and young people whose parents / siblings misuse substances and / or alcohol.

This is not to say that all these young people will use substances or develop problems, but it makes it more important that they receive good education, information and advice about substances and substance use, as well as early support and specialist help where necessary.

3. Sheffield Young People and Substance Misuse Toolkit

Sheffield has a substance misuse screening toolkit for use with young people which can be accessed from The Corner – Young People's Drug and Alcohol Service – 0114 2752051

Practitioners should use the toolkit to help them:

  • Identify and respond to a young person's alcohol and / or drug use;
  • Where need be, obtain specialist help for the young person;
  • Advice regarding young people and drug and / or alcohol use can be obtained by contacting - Young People's Drug and Alcohol Service - The Corner Tel no. 0114 2752051.

The substance misuse screening toolkit should definitely be completed with a young person in the following situations:

  • If a young person asks for some advice or information about, or tells you they are using, drugs, alcohol, glues, gases or aerosols or novel psychoactive substances (previously known as 'legal highs');
  • After a substance misuse related incident occurs, for example finding a young person in possession of drugs, or a young person being intoxicated;
  • When a young person is in one of the following groups: involved in criminal justice system, Looked After by the local authority, leaving local authority care, excluded from mainstream education, persistent truants, homeless, being sexually exploited, children whose parents have drug and / or alcohol problems, whether or not there are any immediate concerns about substance use;
  • When substance misuse has been identified in the young person's household;
  • Where the practitioner's judgement leads them to have other concerns that the young person might be involved in substance misuse;
  • Where a Family Common Assessment Framework (FCAF) is being completed on a young person and concerns are raised that the young person might be using substances.

4. Identifying Safeguarding Children Issues

Drug and / or alcohol use by a young person does not on its own constitute Significant Harm. However there may be circumstances where the young person's drug and / or alcohol misuse raises safeguarding children concerns, for example:

  • The substance use is unusual in view of the child's age – consider frequency, amounts, substance type and method of use;
  • You feel the young person's use becoming increasingly chaotic or risky;
  • The substance use is / could lead to the young person being involved with criminal behaviour – including radicalisation and gang involvement;
  • You are concerned the young person is being exploited or coerced in any way - including sexual exploitation - see Child Sexual Exploitation Procedure;
  • An adult is involved in facilitating the use of substances or alcohol;
  • The young person is caring for another child while under the influence of substances;
  • The parent or sibling is using drugs and / or misusing alcohol (refer to Safeguarding Children Living in Families with Drug and / or Alcohol Misuse Protocol);
  • During contact with the young person non-substance related safeguarding children concerns are identified.

In cases where safeguarding children concerns are identified due to substance misuse, it is recommended that advice be sought from The Corner (Tel no. 0114 2752051) in addition to the referral to Children's Social Care. See also Making a Referral following the Identification of Child Safety and Welfare Concerns Procedure.

5. Action to be taken by Practitioners who are concerned about a Child

5.1 Children who have suffered, or are likely to suffer, Significant Harm

If a worker is concerned that a child has suffered, or is likely to suffer, Significant Harm, a telephone referral must be made as soon as possible to the appropriate area office - See Local Contacts. For more information see Making a Referral following the Identification of Child Safety and Welfare Concerns Procedure.