Emerging Minds

Parental substance use and child-aware practice

About the course

This course examines preventative opportunities and entry points to promote children’s mental health with parents in the context of parental substance use. It provides examples of conversations with parent-clients who are using substances in ways that affect the social and emotional wellbeing of their children.

The course will provide you with a conversation guide, which can be easily incorporated into your current practice, to assist your work with parents who are affected by substance use. This guide recognises the challenges for practitioners in working with presentations of substance use. It also recognises the importance of making children’s safety and social and emotional wellbeing visible in all services.


Module One: Principles and Practices

This module explores the implications for practitioners where parents present to their service affected by substance use. Using video demonstrations, it examines some engagement strategies and initial questions that could help mothers and fathers to describe the effects of substance use and to contemplate the impact on their children.

Module Two: Applying the PERCS Conversation Guide

This module uses video demonstrations to explores the PERCS Conversation Guide in detail, in particular the five PERCS domains in a child’s life. It outlines the use of the example questions from the PERCS Conversation Guide in the video demonstrations.

Who is this course for?

This course is aimed at both practitioners in the Alcohol and Other Drugs (AOD) sector and all generalist practitioners in adult-focused services who engage with parent-clients experiencing issues with substance use 1.

It recognises the significant proportion of parents who present to services who also have substance use issues, and the interrelated nature of substance use and mental health concerns, financial difficulties, family and domestic violence (FDV), homelessness, poverty, and child protection issues.

Learning aims

This course will enable you to conduct conversations that support parents to:

  • consider the impacts of parental substance use on children 
  • lessen these impacts in order to support their children’s safety and social and emotional wellbeing 
  • be curious about the social and emotional wellbeing of their children by using the PERCS Conversation Guide and parent engagement principles 
  • work in a way that recognises stigma and gendered stigma, and is non-judgmental and non-stigmatising 
  • continue working with parent-clients on their presenting issue while acknowledging the context of substance use and its effects on the various domains of their lives and their children’s lives.

Learning outcomes

Therefore, as you progress through this course you will work towards achieving the following specific learning outcomes:

  • Appreciate the impact of parental substance use on children’s social and emotional wellbeing. 
  • Understand how to conduct safe and respectful conversations with parents (where parental substance use is a presenting issue) about their children’s social and emotional wellbeing. 
  • Use key parent-engagement principles to conduct these conversations so you can avoid stigmatisation or judgment, and create shared understandings that respect the parent’s role. 
  • Utilise the PERCS conversation guide to be curious with clients about their children’s social and emotional wellbeing.  
  • Reflect on, and ask about, the five PERCS domains in a child’s life to support parents to consider the impacts of parental substance use on their children’s social and emotional wellbeing. 
  • Understand stigma, and gendered stigma, in relation to engaging mothers and fathers affected by substance use. 
  • Understand the link between trauma and substance use, and trauma-informed practice.

Learning pathway

The work in this course follows on from the foundation course The Impact of Parental Substance Use on the Child which covers the topics:

  • What is substance use?
  • The prevalence of substance use in Australia.
  •  The impacts of substance use on the social and emotional wellbeing, physical and mental health, and development of infants and children. 
  •  Why it is important for all practitioners to be able to respond to issues around substance use in a child-focused way.

If you are inexperienced in working with parents affected by substance use, or would like to know more about the effects of substance use on children, it is recommended that you complete the foundation course as a starting point before undertaking this course.

The knowledge and understandings you will gain from this foundation course are important in supporting you to be able to have safe and effective child-aware conversations with parents affected by substance use.


This course features videos of fictional parents and family scenarios. As you work through the course, it is important to be aware of your own emotional responses. Please follow the self-care tips below and seek help if needed:

  • We do not recommend undertaking the entire course in one sitting. Give yourself some breaks. Even if you don’t feel that you need a break, it’s a good idea to take one anyway and come back later. 
  • Be aware of your emotions as you progress through the course, and take action if you are starting to feel stressed or upset. For example, consider taking a break and doing something for yourself that you enjoy. 
  • Be aware of your emotional responses after you complete the course. 

If at any point you find you are struggling, please talk with your supervisor, seek help, or call Lifeline on 13 11 14, Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636, or SANE Australia on 1800 18 7263.


The language used in this course aims to be strength-based and to avoid further stigmatising an already highly stigmatised population. Therefore, this course will refer to ‘substance use’ as a broad descriptor of substance misuse, harmful or problematic use of substances, or dependence or addiction to substances. The term ‘substance use’ is often associated with the use of illegal drugs such as cannabis, amphetamines and heroin. However, it also encompasses the use of legal substances such as prescription drugs, alcohol, nicotine, cough medicines, solvents and inhalants, and caffeine.

'Social and emotional wellbeing' refers to the way a person thinks and feels about themselves and others. Social and emotional wellbeing incorporates behavioural and emotional strengths. It is integral to child development 2.

‘Child mental health’ can also be referred to as the child’s social and emotional wellbeing. Most infants and children experience good mental health – they can meet challenges, express and regulate a range of emotions, explore their environment, and form secure relationships, all within the context of their age and developmental stage.

Mental health difficulties in infants and children might present as frequent or intense struggles with their emotions, thoughts, behaviours, learning or relationships. They might have trouble controlling their moods and behaviour, find it challenging to be separated from their parent, or have problems with sleeping, eating, excessive crying, or engaging with school and their community. Over-compliance, a need to please, and parentification are all often-overlooked signs of mental health difficulty in children.

Specialist skills and training

This course is not intended to make specialist AOD workers parenting experts or to make mainstream practitioners experts on working with people affected by substance use. It is also not designed to educate practitioners on how to assess parents’ substance use.


  1. NCETA: The National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction. (2019). Mainstream Generic Workers. Found here.
  2. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2012). Social and emotional wellbeing: Development of a Children’s Headline Indicator. Cat. no. PHE 158. Canberra: AIHW

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