3. Implement substance testing

The substance testing of a parent can only be undertaken when a parent provides written consent.

Where a parent is requested to undertake an initial screening test, advise the parent about the proposed urine substance test and talk through the Consent form - Initial screening test with the parent. If the parent consents to the initial screening test, ask the parent to sign two copies of the consent form. Provide the parent with one copy of the signed consent form and attach the other copy to the relevant event in ICMS.

Where the parent is requested to participate in an ongoing testing schedule, discuss the testing schedule with the parent. If the parent consents to participate in the ongoing testing schedule, ask the parent to sign two copies of the consent form Consent form - Ongoing testing schedule. Provide the parent with one copy of the signed consent form and attach the other copy to the relevant event in ICMS and document the testing schedule into a case note.

When a parent refuses to consent to substance testing or is not attending ATODS treatment programs, either during an investigation and assessment or as part of ongoing intervention, consider the information already gathered about the parent’s substance misuse or abuse to inform the assessment of risk to the child.

When general advice is required to assist departmental officers in making assessments and decisions about the protection and care needs of a child, contact the local ATODS and obtain the necessary advice or information.

3.2 Facilitate the substance testing of a parent

Where the parent consents to substance testing at the request of the department:

  • discuss with the parent their history of substance use - which substances, frequency and quantity (where the parent admits recent substance use, consider whether it is necessary to continue with an initial screening test)
  • advise the parent that the urine substance test is for the purpose of determining whether there are substances in their system or monitoring the level of substances in their system 
  • request that the parent undertake a urine test and talk through the Consent form - Initial screening test or Consent form - Ongoing testing schedule including the level of supervision requested (Level 1, 2 or 3)
  • provide the parent with a QML or SNP pathology request form for the relevant collection centre who will undertake the substance test (collection centres can be contacted for copies of their pathology request form when required)
  • ask the parent to take the QML or SNP pathology request form and photo identification when attending the collection centre for the substance test
  • provide a copy of the QML or SNP screening test results to the parent who undertook the test and discuss the results with them
  • in consultation with the team leader, consider whether a subsequent safety assessment or review of the case plan is required, where a test has a non-negative result
  • in consultation with the team leader, decide whether confirmation testing will be undertaken on the non-negative result
  • where the confirmation test has a positive result, discuss the results with the team leader and consider any further action required
  • provide a copy of the QML or SNP confirmation test results to the parent and discuss the results with them.

Depending on the frequency of testing and the substances previously identified, consideration may be given to whether confirmation testing is required for each non-negative test result where the parent is participating in an ongoing testing schedule.

3.3 Responding to non-negative test results 

In some circumstances, it may be considered necessary to undertake confirmation testing prior to any immediate action being taken. However, where non-negative results from the initial screening test, whether in isolation from, or in combination with, parental stressors indicate significant risk to the child, the decision to take immediate action prior to confirmation testing will be considered, as outlined below, in accordance with the principle that the well-being and best interests of a child are paramount (Child Protection Act 1999, section 5).

Any decision made in response to a non-negative test result needs to be made in the best interests of the child. Long-term abstinence from substance use has many positive benefits for the parent, however, the risk of relapse is high and consideration needs to be given to the safety of the child where a parent returns a non-negative test result. A non-negative test result must be considered in assessing the immediate and long-term needs of the child and progress towards the case plan goal.

Where the substance testing of a parent returns a non-negative result, this needs to be considered within the broader context of:

  • any treatment plans the parent is currently participating in and the goals of the treatment (reduced or controlled use or abstinence)
  • any recent change in circumstances which may place additional stressors on the family and parental symptoms or behaviours associated with the detected substance 
  • the nature of substances detected, taking into consideration the history of misuse or abuse by the parent and the impact on the child
  • the protection and care needs of the child.

In addition, on receipt of a non-negative test result the departmental officer will:

  • discuss the test results with the parent and where possible, discuss the reasons for the non-negative result and whether the parent would be willing to engage with an ATODS treatment program, or other related service
  • consider whether a subsequent safety assessment is required where the child is in the family home
  • consider whether immediate action is required to ensure the safety of the child
  • consider whether a review of the case plan is required
  • consult with the senior practitioner, where required.

3.4 Responding to non-compliance by a parent  

A parent, who has consented to substance testing, may refuse to attend, or cease attending, substance testing, ATODS or other related service, at any time. Where this occurs, consider the information already gathered about the parent’s substance misuse or abuse to inform the assessment of risk to the child.

Where the child's case plan incorporates substance testing or other treatment options and the parent subsequently decides to cease attending, determine whether:

  • a case plan review is required and if so, the urgency of the review
  • an out-of-home care placement is necessary to ensure the child's protection, until the case plan review is undertaken
  • a review of the current ongoing intervention type or child protection order is required.

For further information regarding case planning, refer to chapter 4. Case planning. For further information regarding ongoing intervention, refer to chapter 3. Ongoing intervention.   

For general advice to assist assessment and decision-making about the protection and care needs of a child, contact the local ATODS and obtain the necessary advice or information.