Drug and Alcohol Worker should be a regulated title

Drug and alcohol workers provide support to some of the most vulnerable people in our society, yet we still do not have a legally enforceable minimum level of competence or regulation for those working in the sector. It is extraordinary that professional drug and alcohol workers are still not regulated and recognised like social workers, counsellors, hearing aid dispensers or art therapists are.

The 2010 Drug Strategy recognised that “developing a competent substance misuse workforce is crucial to ensuring a high standard of service delivery” and the National Treatment Agency (NTA), before its demise, stated 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 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 to do their job properly
  • The knowledge, understanding and skills needed to perform each of these to the standard required.

Having identified the competences and underpinning skills 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 knowledge
  • Any such shortfalls are addressed through training, supervision and so on.

To make sure everyone has the basic skills required to work in the field, all practitioners should be able to show evidence of their competence in an agreed minimum of relevant units from the Drug and Alcohol National Occupational Standards (DANOS).

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 managers 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, then a key driving force behind this target, did not monitor 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 has stuck by the DANOS targets because we believe they remain important. Blenheim is compliant with the training and competence requirements and all our staff are required to sign up to the FDAP Code of Conduct.

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 practitioners’ professionalism in our field and the QCF provides the opportunity for ongoing assessment of professional development.

Professionally qualified workers (qualified to practise in the UK in a regulated health or social care profession) have already demonstrated the ability 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.

I welcome Substance Misuse Management Good Practice (SMMGP) picking up responsibility for FDAP. However, 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.

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.

Blenheim offers a wide range of sector-specific training to improve practitioners’ approach, whilst understanding the importance of being responsive to a diverse range of needs and skills. As we continue to await the new drug strategy, I worry that there may be no focus on skills and qualifications for drug and alcohol workers in the near future. It makes me proud to work for an organisation which places such a strong emphasis on training and development.

We are celebrating Volunteers’ Week, and have welcomed a fantastic new cohort of volunteers to the organisation. I know they’ll receive the very best training to bring the best possible benefits to our service users, and look forward to the day when everyone in our sector receives this training and is recognised for it.

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