‘Drugs Worker’ should be a regulated title requiring specific competence and training

Drugs and alcohol workers work with some of the most vulnerable and challenging people in our society, yet we still do not have a legally enforceable minimum level of competence or regulation for those in the sector.  It is extraordinary that the professional drug and/or alcohol worker is still not regulated and recognised in the same way as a social worker, doctor, nurse, counsellor, hearing aid dispenser or art therapist.

The Drug Strategy recognises that ‘developing a competent substance misuse workforce is crucial to ensuring a high standard of service delivery’ and the NTA notes that ‘it is important that commissioners and services continue to work towards a workforce which is fully competent and able to demonstrate its competence’.

But we need more than just people with the ability to do their job; we need a workforce which puts its potential into practice on the ground.

We also need practitioners to work to the highest ethical standards because of the potential vulnerability of our client group.

The first step to a competent workforce is for each person to have a “role profile” identifying:

  • The range of competences they require (i.e. the tasks and activities they need to be competent in) to do their job properly
  • The knowledge, understanding and skills (know-how) needed to perform each of these to the standard required.

Having identified the competences and underpinning know-how required in a person’s role, we need to ensure that:

  • They are regularly assessed against their role profile, to identify any shortfalls in their competence and underlying know-how
  • Any such shortfalls are addressed through training, reading, observation and feedback, supervision and so on.

To make sure everyone has a basic set of competences to work in the field all practitioners should either have, or be working towards, evidence of:

  • Their core generic competence to work with adults and/or children and young people (depending on their client group)
  • Their competence in an agreed minimum of relevant units from the DANOS standards.

Finally, practitioners need regular supervision to ensure they are putting their abilities into practice and acting ethically.

When DANOS was published the following target was set:

  • All workers and their line managers/supervisors should have, or be working towards, evidence of their basic competence to work in the field.
  • All line managers should be undertaking, or have completed, a training course in line management.

Unfortunately the NTA, a key driving force behind this target, did not monitor our progress against this and removed targets for workforce development from its requirements of local areas. This left the DANOS targets in limbo and open to unscrupulous providers employing people without the competence, knowledge or ability to deliver services on the ground.

Blenheim CDP and a range of other providers have stuck by the DANOS targets because we believed they were important.  Blenheim CDP has been compliant with the training and competence  requirement for a number of years and all our staff are required to sign up to the FDAP code of conduct.

National Occupational Standards (NOS) identify the range of tasks and activities relevant to a particular area of work.

Individual NOS units identify the things people need to do, and the underpinning know-how required, to carry out a task or activity properly.

The Drug & Alcohol National Occupational Standards (DANOS) cover most of the substance misuse tasks and activities relevant to the field.

Competence frameworks like the Knowledge & Skills Framework (KSF) typically include most of the generic competences relevant to drug and alcohol workers, but not the more specialist ones covered by DANOS.

The QCF (Qualifications and Credit Framework) is the national credit transfer system for educational qualification in England, Northern Ireland and Wales. The Substance Misuse Awards and Certificates, on the QCF, are clearly the way forward for verifying the competence of practitioner’s professionalism in our field and the QCF provides the opportunity for on-going assessment of professional development.

Professionally qualified workers (see below) have already demonstrated the generic competence to work with people but not the specialist knowledge required to put this into practice in the drugs and alcohol field. They should at least be undertaking a competency-based substance misuse qualification and the Substance Misuse Award (QCF) is well-placed to address this. While anyone practising as a counsellor or psychotherapist, if not already certified by an appropriate body (like BACP, UKCP, UKRC or FDAP), should also be working towards becoming so.

[A professionally qualified worker is someone qualified to practise in the UK in a regulated health or social care profession (e.g. as a nurse, doctor, social worker), Chartered by BPS as a psychologist, or Certified as a counsellor /psychotherapist by a recognised certifying body (e.g. BACP, UKCP, UKRC or FDAP)].

There is now an urgent need for leadership and regulation of qualification and competence in our field and clear pathways for progression within the wider Health and Social Care sector. The Skills Consortium needs to address this urgently. Or perhaps we just need to wait for the newspaper headlines and the public enquiry about why things went so wrong and were left for so long. We are gifted with committed and highly skilled practitioners; let us give them the formal assessment, qualification and recognition that they deserve and also offer a clear professional career opportunity for the practitioners of the future.


5 thoughts on “‘Drugs Worker’ should be a regulated title requiring specific competence and training

  1. When I started as a “drug worker” I had no previous experience (save a slightly relevant degree). My organisation put me through a Core Competancy Framework which included face to face training sessions (for things like MI/CBT etc) and then there were about 10 units to be completed with written exercises/essays on confidentiality, boundaries, assessment skills, care planning etc which had to be submitted and then you passed/failed. These were mapped to DANOS competancies. I also have monthly supervision which is helpful.

    I was lucky in receving this training and have certificates which I feel allow me to use the title of “drug worker”. However, sometimes this is banded around when an individual has no formal training or supervision and have not demonstrated the standards required. So yes I do agree with what you saty. It would give us workers weight in what we do as well, rather than it being seen as an “airy fairy” option.

  2. Theoretically sound blog, but unfortunately most drug agencies in the UK would claim they don’t have the money to pay for one day’s training on the latest forms of drug use. If it wasn’t so serious, it would be laughable

  3. I totally agree with everything that John Jolly has said, except that I believe that DANOS is flawed and a new framework is needed. The principle is clear, drug and alcohol workers need a professionally recognised qualification which would be the minimum requirement to practice. More advanced skills could be added over time. As a member of the Skills Consortium I will push hard for this policy to be adopted. Ira Unell, Leicester

  4. I would agree entirely. The misinformation, self-serving deception and nonsense promulgated by a large proportion of the drug support industry is a scandal.

    A fine example is your own claim in the media today to be able to “educate” Lady Gaga about cannabis.

    As usual a self-serving drug support organisation distributes false and misleading information about cannabis.

    Cannabis is NOT “…a significant problem for people under 25 in the U.K.” and I challenge you to produce any credible evidence to support this. The truth is that it is a very minor problem, virtually insignificant in comparison to other issues such as alcohol, unemployment and education.

    I simply do not believe “”The predominant drug we are dealing with in our treatment centres for people under 25 years old is cannabis”.

    According to NTA data the number of people in treatment for cannabis is approximately 7% of all people in treatment, a figure which has remained stable for 10 years.

    I call Blenheim CDP out as charlatans and challenge you to provide evidence to support your assertions.

    1. Blenheim CDP is a treatment provider working with people with drugs and alcohol problems. We are committed to giving people the facts both positive and negative about the effects of drugs.
      In our response to Lady Gaga and cannabis use we were particularly concerned to point out that those who influence the young have a responsibility for the examples they set.
      In working with those under 18 our role as an organisation is to discourage the use of all drugs including alcohol and tobacco. However even more importantly it is to provide young people with the facts on which to base their decisions.
      Many young people do choose to use drugs and as an organisation we are there to support people when things go wrong. Whilst thankfully most young people we see are using cannabis and alcohol rather than heroin and crack, this does not mean that cannabis and alcohol are problem free; they can and do cause significant problems for the people who attend our services.
      We fully acknowledge the inconsistency of the law related to drug, tobacco and alcohol in responding to drugs with different risk profiles. Broadly Blenheim CDP would support the views of Professor Nutt the former chair of ACMD on the need to link legal controls in relation to drugs more closely to evidence of potential harm.
      My comments on Lady Gaga and cannabis use being a significant issue for young people in Blenheim CDP services is drawn directly from our organisations statistics. In 2011-12 22% of people in treatment with Blenheim CDP identified cannabis as their primary drug in relation to which they were seeking help. (Only crack cocaine was higher at 25%). When you look at our young peoples services which we have three in different parts of London the figures become even more significant. The percentages of young people presenting with cannabis as the primary drug of concern was 66%, 78% and 84% respectively.

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