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Parental substance misuse - child care proceedings

View profile for Victoria Gethin
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Divorce rates between heterosexual couples hit 45-year low

Celebrities and drug scandals are in the news nearly every week. The latest celebrity to fall into the spotlight for this is Katie Price. Katie’s life has been well documented by the media and now a video has come to light of her on holiday performing an improvised rap entitled “I love coke”. Katie has five children, Harvey, Junior, Princess, Jett and Bunny.

In certain circumstances excessive drug and alcohol misuse can impact upon a parents’ ability to care for their children. It may cause the other parent concern and result in them seeking legal advice with regards to the remedies available. These could include an order outlining where the children should live (known as a “child arrangements order”) if the arrangements cannot be agreed between the parents.

In serious cases and if social services are concerned that children are at risk of significant harm or are suffering significant harm, they may issue care proceedings and seek an “interim care order” and to remove children from their parents care. It should be noted that drug and alcohol misuse in itself is not enough to meet the criteria for such intervention. Social services need to establish the link between any drug and alcohol misuse and the fact that the children have suffered, or are at risk of suffering, significant harm.    

If family court proceedings are issued by a parent or by social services, the court can order that drug and/or alcohol testing be carried out. The testing most commonly used is hair strand testing whereby the testing company can assess the quantities of specified drug compounds or alcohol levels over varying time periods, ranging from a short time frame to 12 months, depending on the length of hair available.  The testing can go back on a month by month basis and can include the testing  of several substances at once. If there is insufficient head hair, testing companies can also obtain samples from body hair, including chest or armpit hair. Companies are now also offering finger nail testing. Blood and hair testing can be combined to assess chronic alcohol consumption and testing can be also undertaken by way of a tamper-proof bracelet which tests a person for alcohol every 30 minutes and can provide evidence of sobriety.

Where concerns exist parents will be afforded an opportunity to remedy the difficulties. This can be done by working openly and honestly and to seek support from appropriate services which could include admission to a rehabilitation unit.

Any parents affected by these issues are advised to seek independent legal advice. Legal aid may be available and in the event social services issue care proceedings all parents or persons with parental responsibility for a child are automatically entitled to legal aid.   Stephensons has unrivalled experience dealing with some of the most challenging cases of this nature. If you need to speak to a solicitor about social services involvement or care proceedings, call our family law team today on  0175 321 6399.

By Victoria Gethin and Jack Challinor in the family law department

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