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3.7.1 Drugs and Substance Misuse (including Smoking)


The procedure is primarily designed for the management of children in foster care and residential care, but the principles apply to all Looked After children, and social workers should be mindful of them when placing children with parents, relatives and friends.


This chapter was slightly amended in April 2013 in regard to Section 1, Definition.


Caption: Contents table
1. Definition
2. Access/Use of Drugs and Substances
i. Purchasing/Obtaining Drugs or Substances
ii. Cigarettes and Tobacco
iii. Alcohol
iv. Aerosols, Gas, Glue and Petrol 
v. Controlled Drugs and Substances  
3. Assessment, Prevention and Planning
4. Emergencies
5. Notifications

1. Definition

Substances are defined as any substances, whether restricted or prohibited, which may have a harmful effect upon a child, such as:

Alcohol, Cigarettes, Tobacco, Aerosols, Gas, Glue, Magic Mushrooms (Amanita), Petrol, Solvents and all controlled substances such as Amphetamines, Barbiturates, Benzodiazepines, Cannabis, Cocaine, Hallucinogens, Hashish and Heroin.

It also includes legal highs which are substances that mimic the effects of illegal drugs such as ecstasy and amphetamines, but are not controlled by the Misuse of Drugs Act.

2. Access/Use of Drugs and Substances

i. Purchasing/Obtaining Drugs or Substances

All children's homes and foster homes have a zero tolerance policy towards the storage or use of illegal drugs on their premises.

All reasonable measures must be used to reduce or prevent children from obtaining drugs or substances that may harm them.

If it is known or suspected that children are obtaining products that may harm them, whether off the streets, from dealers or from traders of any kind, a strategy must be adopted to reduce or prevent it. 

If the problem persists or is serious, relevant specialists or bodies, including Trading Standards or the Police, should be informed.

If there is a suspicion that a child has brought drugs into the residential home or foster home under any circumstances, they should be removed from the child and the Police should be notified - see Contacting the Police Procedure. If there is a suspicion that a child is hiding drugs in his or her bedroom, see Searching Children and their Belongings Procedure. Any drugs found on the child or in his or her bedroom should be removed and temporarily stored until the Police arrive.

ii. Cigarettes and Tobacco

All residential homes are non smoking and staff must not smoke in the presence of children.

Staff/carers must not purchase, lend money for or give cigarettes, tobacco or the materials for making or lighting cigarettes or tobacco to children.

Social workers should not give permission for any child who is Looked After to smoke.

iii. Alcohol

In foster homes, the foster carers’ supervising social worker and the social worker for any children placed should come to an agreement with the foster carers on whether alcohol may be consumed by the child. 

In residential care, staff/visitors and children are not permitted to consume alcohol and staff are not permitted to take children into licensed premises other than those which serve food and ones that are family friendly. Such trips must be agreed with the registered manager of the home before they take place.

All children must be actively encouraged not to drink alcohol and there must be age appropriate discussions with them about the harmful effects of alcohol abuse.

iv. Aerosols, Gas, Glue, and Petrol

Staff/carers must ensure that aerosols, gas, glue, petrol and similar substances are only used for the purpose they were designed for; and that all reasonable measures are taken to restrict their use to children who are known to pose no risk to themselves or others if they have access to them.

In foster homes, the arrangements for the obtaining, storage or access to children of these substances must be outlined in the carers’ Foster Care Agreement or Placement Plan for individual children.

In residential care, the arrangements for the obtaining, storage and use of these substances must be outlined in the Staff Handbook and Children’s Guide or individual children’s Placement Plans where there is a particular or known risk.

v. Controlled Drugs and Substances

Under no circumstances may controlled drugs and substances, other than those prescribed by a medical practitioner, be accessible to children. For the procedure where such drugs are prescribed for children, see the Administration of Medicine to Looked After Children Procedure.

3. Assessment, Prevention and Planning

The rules about smoking and alcohol consumption must be made clear to children during the placement planning process by staff/carers.

The impact and effect of a child using or misusing any substance should be considered as part of the care planning when s/he becomes Looked After. The parental view of the behaviour and an assessment of the risks and how best they can be minimised within the placement should be understood and analysed.

Advice and assistance should be sought as appropriate from the Designated Health Professionals for Looked After Children.

Where a child is already known to be addicted to tobacco, a strategy for breaking the habit must be included as part of the care planning. It should be tackled as a health education issue rather than a discipline issue.

The home environment should be considered in terms of the availability of alcohol, aerosols, or drug using paraphernalia and the ability to promote and maintain a safe home environment.

On becoming Looked After, any child known or suspected to be participating in drug or substance misuse must be provided with the following

  • Targeted relevant information, guidance and advice to help reduce or prevent such risks
  • A strategy for managing the risk, including in what circumstances the Police will be notified. Consideration should be given as part of the strategy, through consultation with the child, to making referrals for specialist support and helping children to access treatment, if appropriate.

4. Emergencies

If it is suspected that a child is misusing harmful drugs or substances and no strategy exists to reduce or prevent the behaviour, the child’s social worker should be contacted and an agreement reached on how to proceed; this will include whether the Police will be notified.

If there are immediate risks and the social worker or his/her manager are not available, staff/carers should take what actions are immediately necessary, then inform the child's social worker of the action taken at the first opportunity. The home's manager (in the case of a child in a residential placement) and the supervising social worker (in the case of a child in a foster home) should also be informed.

The actions that staff/carers take will be dependent on the circumstances and the degree of offence or injury that is likely. Their overall responsibility is to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child, as well as protecting themselves and others from injury and reduce or prevent the likelihood of criminal offences.

If there is a risk of serious harm, injury or of a serious criminal offence and staff/carers are unable to manage safely, the Police should be notified

If solvents are involved, staff/carers should allow air to circulate freely and extinguish naked lights

If any person is unconscious, in a fit, convulsing or otherwise seriously ill, emergency first aid should be given and an ambulance requested. The emergency services should be informed that there are suspicions of drug or solvent misuse.

5. Notifications

Incidents of drug or substance misuse must be notified to the residential manager/foster carer's supervising social worker and the child’s social worker at the first opportunity.

A decision about whether to notify the parents will be taken by the social worker, in consultation with their manager

If incident(s) are persistent or serious, consideration should be given to reviewing the child’s plan and/or seeking specialist advice.