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£2.2 million grant awarded to study the care of parents who use drugs

Researchers from King’s College London will take an innovative approach to explore the experiences of UK parents who use drugs and how they engage with a range of health and social care services available to them.

Children and families affected by parental drug use include some of the most disadvantaged study into parents who use drugsfamilies in society. An estimated 300,000 people who use opioids live in the UK, the majority of whom are of parenting age. These parents and their families are often stigmatised and excluded from mainstream society and do not always receive the right kind of treatment and family support. 

While the UK has established ways of working with parents who use drugs, there is substantial variation in national policies and practice and little is known about the experience of parents as they engage in a range of social, legal, health and welfare services.

The Relations Study team comprises researchers from King’s College London, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, the University of Stirling, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, University of Dundee, University of Edinburgh and the University of West of Scotland.

The study will explore how parental drug use is managed in practice by interviewing, observing and spending time with parents and families, health and social care practitioners, service managers and policy makers. The study aims to understand how the whole system works from a family perspective.

Over a three-year period, the project will bring together world leading experts in the field of policy and practice to form two learning alliances – one in England and one in Scotland.

Completing 126 individual and focus group interviews across both sites in England and Scotland, the teams will ethnographically examine 30 families affected by parental drug use, as well as staff and service providers who work with drug affected families across 12 selected community services. Researchers will also review and examine policies about the treatment and management of parents who use drugs to compare how polices differ in different agencies and countries.

Dr Polly Radcliffe from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), King’s College London, who will be managing the researchers and site in England, said:

Drug use remains a problem in the UK and parents who use opioids are a particularly stigmatised group who are often under a range of pressures. With cuts to substance use treatment and social care budgets and a substantial proportion of the children of parents who use substances being removed to out of home care, this study is very timely. Working with stakeholders including service users, service providers and policy makers we hope our research will help to reshape the care and support systems for parents who use drugs.

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