Often in public law proceedings, when the Local Authority have concerns that parents are using substances, they will request that parents engage with drug and alcohol testing.
Such testing might be requested during the PLO (Public Law Outline) process, whereby the Local Authority will be responsible for arranging the testing, or within the Court arena. Testing will be directed by the Court and will usually be arranged by the parents’ solicitor.
The testing is requested to show whether or not a parent uses alcohol and/or drugs and to what extent. A sample collection appointment will be arranged and this would usually take place at a solicitor’s office. Some companies will attend an individual’s home to take the samples which are then forwarded to a laboratory for testing before a comprehensive report detailing the result is provided.
The sample will always be collected by a qualified nurse or trained sample collector and samples collected are usually a hair strand sample, or a blood sample. A sample of hair can determine a history of drug and alcohol intake for up to 12 months.
Hair samples are preferable where drug testing is concerned as they can be segmented month by month to show the amount of drugs used within an approximate timeframe. The Local Authority can then use this information to identify whether or not the parents might have been using substances whilst children were in there care and make decisions as to the impact it might have had on the care of the children. In the event that hair samples are not available, the sample collection company may take body hair samples, fingernail samples, or toenail samples for testing.
Unfortunately, such samples cannot be segmented month by month and so will simply provide an “overview” as to use which is not particularly helpful when a parent wishes to demonstrate that they have cut down / ceased using substances.
Parents will always be encouraged to be open and honest about substance use and to engage with testing when the Local Authority has concerns that they are using substances. Whilst the Court cannot force a parent to comply with such testing, if a parent refuses to provide samples for collection, the Court may question why they have done this, and inferences might be drawn from the parents refusal to engage.
If there is already evidence before the Court implying that parents are using substances, and the parents fail to engage with testing to evidence otherwise, the Court may conclude that the parents are in fact using substances, regardless of whether or not it has been scientifically proven. As indicated, parents will always be encouraged to be open with the Local Authority and the Court about any substance use. It is extremely important to remember that a positive result on a drug and/or alcohol test does not automatically mean that the Local Authority conclude a parent cannot care for their child.