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Report suggests there is poor evidence to support the focus in child social work on the combined effect of the ‘toxic trio’

New research led by the National Children’s Bureau and the Universities of Cambridge and Kent suggest there is little understanding of whether the ‘toxic trio’ combine to significantly increase the danger to children.

The toxic trio - parental mental illness, drug or alcohol misuse, and domestic violence – are known to be significant, individual indicators of children being in danger of harm or abuse. However, a prevalent belief, in social work and beyond, is that when these factors occur in combination the risks to children multiply significantly. 

The research shows, however, that the  limited number of studies that have considered the three factors in combination lacked the precision, detail and depth needed to inform good policymaking, or even to estimate how common these factors are or how many children are experiencing abuse and neglect as a result of them. The research also found inconsistency in how the toxic trio were defined.

 Anna Feuchtwang, Chief Executive of the National Children’s Bureau, said “Parental mental ill-health, domestic violence, and drug or alcohol misuse, are undoubtedly significant risk factors in children’s lives. But so are other factors, such as families' financial resources and the support available to them within their communities.

Labels like “toxic trio” can lead to making assumptions that are not borne out by the evidence and this risks alienating families rather than supporting children. It’s essential that social workers are given the right tools to make an evidence informed approach to prevent harm.”

Read the full report here.