To guide child protection workers in their use of drug testing as a tool when working with parents whose drug use is impacting their capacity to keep their child safe.
To assess a parent’s drug use, child protection workers can use either urinalysis or hair testing. Urinalysis, the examination of a sample of urine, is the Department for Communities' (the Department) preferred drug testing method because of its accessibility and affordability.
Our preference is that all urinalysis testing, where practicable, is conducted by PathWest.
Drug tests must only be used when it is clear that a parent’s drug use may be impacting on their functioning and ability to safely care for a child and further information is needed to ascertain the type, level and pattern of drug use. Refer to the Drug Testing Policy and “Assessing parenting capacity and risk of harm” in Chapter 1.4: Alcohol and other drug issues.
Drug tests provide information regarding:
Drug testing cannot provide information on:
They may be useful as a one off or series of tests to confirm or dispute reasonable suspicion of parental substance misuse. The expected outcomes of drug testing regarding the pattern and quantity of drug use must be clearly established in case planning, and with parents, in line with case circumstances and goals i.e. reduced use and safety planning.
Child protection workers should consider a range of factors when planning drug testing including:
Frequency of testingChild protection workers should refer to the adjacent table when scheduling urinalysis testing and consider the time in which drugs can be detected.
If cannabis is the drug being misused then less frequent testing is appropriate given the length of time the drug stays in the body.
If the types of drugs being misused are unknown, then urinalysis testing two-three times a week may be suitable.
Duration of testing
The duration of planned drug testing should account for the history of a parent’s drug misuse. It may be appropriate to have either:
One-off testing may be useful to manage a parent’s denied drug misuse. Alternatively, a schedule of testing over a timeframe of one to three months may be useful to demonstrate reduced/increased use of drugs.
Random or scheduled testing
Random urinalysis testing is preferred over scheduled tests because it minimises the potential for parent manipulation. Child protection workers should notify the parent on the morning of the drug test, to reduce the possibility of the results being manipulated by the parent. The advice of drug testing providers or drug specialists must be sought when determining testing schedules.
Parents not attending a drug test
Where there is no legitimate reason for a parent’s non-attendance, child protection workers should record the result as a positive due to non-compliance. Child protection workers must ask the parent to provide a urinalysis test the following day unless there are legitimate circumstances, such as illness or bereavement.
Reviewing the use of urinalysis testing
Child protection workers, in consultation with team leaders, should regularly assess whether urinalysis testing is still required to provide information on type, level and pattern of drug use. The use of testing should be reviewed when:
Team leaders should review their teams' use of testing in line with the Drug Testing Policy and this entry.
Although urinalysis testing is the preferred method, hair drug testing can be considered if it costs less than urinalysis testing and/or the information required in relation to type, level and pattern of drug use is only able to be ascertained through this method. Hair drug testing can provide a long term picture (pattern) of drug misuse in a one-off testing process. Child protection workers should contact the hair drug testing provider to discuss the types of drugs that can be detected, limitations in testing and obtain a quote on the total cost. The cost is determined by the type and level of analysis required and can be very expensive. Team leader approval of a quote is required before this type of testing can occur. Refer to the Drug Testing Guide (in related resources) for further information.
Parents should always be assisted to access Community Alcohol and Drug Services (CADS) services in conjunction with the use of drug tests. Refer to Referral and collaboration in Chapter 1.4: Alcohol and other drug issues.
We have a Memorandum of Understanding with PathWest for the provision of urinalysis testing. Our preference is that all urinalysis testing is conducted by PathWest due to negotiated lowest fee. Child protection workers should choose a provider based on the lowest fee, select a location reasonably convenient for the parent to attend and check that the provider will supervise testing. Refer to Drug Testing – Urinalysis Pathology Provider Locations and Fees and MOU CPFS and NMHS Pathwest for the provision of drug detection service (in related resources).
Interpreting urinalysis results can be complex. For example, results may detect the use of prescription drugs but it may be difficult to determine if the levels of consumption indicate that the prescribed drugs are being abused. Child protection workers should seek assistance from pathology providers (free of charge). Child protection workers should contact pathology providers to clarify whether a parent’s explanation regarding a positive result is valid.
Urinalysis may be used in Court as a result of criminal charges, conditions of parole or Community Service Orders. For mutual clients, separate testing by us is not required. A signed consent for the release and exchange of information between the Department of Corrective Services and our Department enables child protection workers to access test results.