Alcohol, Drugs and Smoking

1. Alcohol

Foster carers should ensure that children are educated about alcohol. It is accepted that the more that young people know, the more likely they are to make good decisions about how to deal with smoking, drinking and the inappropriate use of drugs. It is good to talk about this subject so that you can give out the right messages and information.

Changing the way that people behave with alcohol and drugs is partly dependent on persuasion so it is really important that channels of communication are kept open. This does not mean that you approve of what the young person might be doing.

Children should never be given alcohol by foster carers. However, there might be special or festive occasions when carers want to offer a young person a small glass of alcohol. This should be discussed with the child's social worker in advance and the child's parents if appropriate. They might a religious or cultural reason that should be considered or alcohol might have been a negative feature of their home life. Any decision to give a child alcohol must be agreed with parent and carers and be clear in the child's care plan.

1.1 What to do if a Child is Drunk

Where you suspect that a child has had alcohol, depending on how much they think they have drunk, you may need to:

  • Offer fluids - water, squash;
  • Monitoring and check the child - 10 minutes, 30 minutes, hourly, etc. especially if they go to sleep;
  • Contacting health professionals for advice i.e. G.P.
  • Consider hospital treatment.

You should never ignore a child who appears drunk or under the influence of another substance. Make sure that:

  • If a child has drunk alcohol it is recorded;
  • You are clear about a child's religious or cultural beliefs as they may forbid the use of alcohol;
  • The child is aware of the possible conflict between taking prescribed medication and drinking alcohol;
  • You are aware of the amount of alcohol in your home to ensure you know when it is being drunk;
  • You understand that children may have had bad experiences of people getting drunk and so may become anxious if you drink.

1.2 Foster Carers and Use of Alcohol

You should not consume alcohol in the presence of children, except on special occasions, and then the amount consumed should be reasonable. Once children have gone to bed or are visiting their parents, carers and visitors may consume alcohol but you should always be in a position to respond to emergencies, which may mean that one carer should abstain. As a guide, carers should be mindful of the consequences of drinking prior to looking after a child or young person. Work, performance and the ability to drive can be affected the day after drinking. Similarly, the after-effects of drinking could be shaking, excessive thirst, indigestion, headache, sickness etc. This may be apparent to children or young people and have serious effects on your ability to perform their duties in a professional manner.

See: GOV.UK website.

2. Drugs and Substance Misuse

Foster carers do not need to know everything about drugs and substances to respond appropriately and competently to young people that they are caring for.

All children can be tempted to experiment with drugs, no matter where they come from or their background. Some children will be in foster care because of substance misuse in their family and this may inform how they feel about drugs and their knowledge.

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

Aerosols, Gas, Glue, Magic Mushrooms (Amanita), Petrol, Solvents and Amphetamines, Barbiturates, Cannabis, Cocaine, Hallucinogens, Nitrous Oxide (NOS) Hashish and Heroin. This can also include alcohol, cigarettes and tobacco.

It also includes psychoactive substances which can cause changes to a child's sensation, perception, mood, consciousness, cognition and behaviour.

See also:

It is often difficult to tell if a child is using drugs, particularly when a child first takes drugs or only takes them occasionally.

Some possible indications of drug abuse are:

  • Sudden changes of mood;
  • Irritability;
  • Loss of appetite;
  • Increased appetite - possible want sweet things more;
  • Drowsiness or sleepiness;
  • Evidence of telling lies;
  • Unexplained loss of money or belongings;
  • Unusual smells, stains or marks on the body, clothes or around the house.

Many of these signs are easily confused with normal growing up. It is vital that you do not make it a taboo subject but perhaps use opportunities such as stories in the media and on TV to start conversations.

It is important not to jump to the wrong conclusion, but speak to the child's social worker or your Supervising Social Worker if you are concerned. Further specialist training is available on drug and alcohol misuse and there are people who specialise in working with children on these issues. Access to these services should be done in conjunction with the child's social worker. You could be held responsible for any illegal drugs that are kept in your home so having clear boundaries about drug use is important.

Children often have access to a range of domestic products that are harmful and potentially fatal to them when inhaled. You need to be vigilant with young people around aerosol products, nail varnish, corrective fluid, glues etc.

Training is also provided by the Fostering Service; speak to your Supervising Social Worker.

As a foster carer you would be deregistered if you are found to be using any type of illegal drugs and have a drug or alcohol problem.

3. Smoking (including e-cigarettes)

Not all children will smoke and some may have a period of just trying it but they can quite quickly become hooked on cigarettes. This guidance applies to the use of tobacco as well as e-cigarettes.

Some children placed with you may already have a smoking habit. You should support and encourage children to reduce or stop smoking. You can get support from the Looked After Children's Nurse or the young person's GP.


  • It is against the law for retailers to sell cigarettes/cigarette papers, tobacco, electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) or e-liquids to someone under 18;
  • Rules about when, where and by who is allowed to smoke should be clear;
  • To be a positive role model to children;
  • To raise awareness of the effects of smoking and tobacco use and how to live a healthy lifestyle.

Your role is to:

  • Consider your own health, your family and fostered children. If you are offered smoking cessation support, you have a duty to consider taking up the service;
  • Be mindful that your behaviour provides a role model for the children in your care and consider the effect of smoking on children;
  • Never buy cigarettes or materials used for smoking for children in your care and cigarettes must never be used as a reward for good behaviour;
  • Put in place household rules about smoking, making these clear to children placed with you;
  • It is illegal to smoke in your car when carrying someone who is under 18 (see GOV.UK, Smoking in vehicles). This applies when people have the windows down or the sunroof open, or are sitting in the open doorway of a car.

The rules don't apply to e-cigarettes (vaping) or a convertible car with the roof completely down. However as the effects of this are unknown, the Fostering Service views this in the same way as smoking and would recommend you do not do this with children present.

4. Emergency Situations

If it suspected that a child is misusing harmful drugs or substances and no strategy exists to reduce or prevent the behaviour, your Supervising Social Worker or the fostering manager must be notified, who may consult the child's social worker.  If there is an immediate urgent risk e.g. that the child or another person may be injured or that a serious crime may be committed, you should take what action is necessary to protect yourself, the child or others e.g.:

  • If there is a risk of serious harm, injury or of a serious criminal offence and you s are unable to manage safely, the police should be notified;
  • If solvents are involved, air should be allowed to circulate freely and naked lights should be extinguished;
  • If the child is unconscious, in a fit or 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;
  • The drugs/substances should be removed or confiscated, preferably with the co-operation of the child(ren).

No further action, beyond making the situation safe and attempting to confiscate harmful drugs or substances, should be taken without consulting  your Supervising Social Worker or fostering manager.