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09 FEB 2011

Call for national standards for substance misuse testing

Hair - istockphoto/ AnitaPattersonFollowing a High Court ruling last November highlighting the need for caution when hair tests for alcohol are being interpreted and relied upon, the company that carried out the original test in the case is calling for national standard procedures for testing for parental substance misuse.

Drug and alcohol testing company TrichoTech is calling for the introduction of new standard procedures to define a national and local regulatory framework, determining which professionals are responsible for ordering parental substance testing, along with evidence to base these orders upon and formal procedures for undertaking the task.

The call comes following the company's submissions to both the Munro Review of Child Protection and the Family Justice Review. In submitting evidence to both reviews, TrichoTech - a subdivision of Concateno - made recommendations for better ways in which childcare professionals could utilise substance misuse testing data to improve social work practice.

The company made further recommendations to introduce a policy of laboratory accreditation to help ensure reliability and accuracy of testing. TrichoTech also advised on the adoption of objective training with regards to the evidence drug testing can provide, on the basis that it is important for all parties involved to be aware of the strengths and limitations of such tests. 

In the care proceedings case before Mr Justice Moylan in November, a mother with a history of severe alcohol abuse disputed the results of a hair test ordered to establish her alcohol use. A second hair test produced inconclusive results.  In his judgment, Mr Justice Moylan said: "It is very regrettable that this issue was not resolved earlier because it has resulted in the determination of these care proceedings, by an agreed supervision order, being delayed by some eight months.

"This has, with hindsight, manifestly not been in the interests of the children the subject of these proceedings."

The judge concluded: "I regret to say that the hair testing evidence given in this case failed the parties and in particular the children." 

More parents are being tested for drug and alcohol misuse than ever before, according to Concateno's testing statistics which show it analysed 11,500 samples across the UK for child protection purposes during 2010. This compares to 10,000 tests which were collected in the UK during 2009.

According to the social care charity Turning Point, up to 1.3 million children in the UK are affected by parental alcohol misuse and in half of child protection cases parental alcohol misuse was identified as a factor.

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