The key therapeutic factors needed to deliver behavioural change interventions to decrease risky substance use (drug and alcohol) for looked after children and care leavers: a qualitative exploration with young people, carers and front line workers

Hayley Alderson, Rebecca Brown, Alex Copello, Eileen Kaner, Gillian Tober, Raghu Lingam and Ruth McGovern - BMC Medical Research Methodology


Looked after children and care leavers have an increased risk of drug and alcohol use compared to their non-LAC peers. Despite high prevalence rates within this population, looked after children are reported to show low levels of engagement in services resulting in unmet needs emerging from substance use. This paper reports on the initial formative phase of a pilot feasibility randomised controlled trial; SOLID (Supporting Looked After Children and Care Leavers In Decreasing Drugs, and Alcohol) that aimed to adapt two evidence-based psychosocial interventions, Motivational Enhancement Therapy and Social Behaviour and Network Therapy, which will aim to reduce substance misuse by looked after children.


We conducted qualitative semi-structured interviews and focus groups with 19 looked after children aged 12 to 20 years old, 16 carers and 14 professionals across four local authorities in the North East of England. The data gathered were analysed and then presented within co-production workshops inclusive of 13 young people and 14 professionals (drug and alcohol practitioners and social workers). Findings were used to adapt and refine the interventions prior to the trial.


Overall findings suggested that whilst original components of both interventions were feasible to deliver and acceptable, specific process areas were highlighted including: increased emphasis upon therapeutic relationships, the benefits of using creative non-traditional methods of engagement and identification of treatment goals wider than those narrowly focused on substance misuse.


This paper provides an example of methods used to collect multiple perspectives to refine and co-develop interventions to reduce drug and alcohol use in the specific population of looked after children.