Out-of-home care as an institutional risk environment for volatile substance use Academic Article uri icon


  • The exploratory study of meanings of volatile substance use (VSU) on which this article draws (involving 28 young people living in Melbourne, Victoria, Australa, aged from 13 to 24 years, each with experience of VSU, and 14 expert workers) was not designed to investigate any relationship between VSU and living in out-of-home care while subject to protective orders. However, when asked about their lives at the time they commenced or intensified VSU, 8 participants were adamant that living in out-of-home care was a significant factor. Two narratives reiterated by these young people are identified in the article: first that VSU is part of life in out-of-home care, and second that VSU ceases to be appropriate after leaving care. Young people who are living in out-of-home care report substantially higher levels of VSU than occur across the general population. This article shows how narrative accounts (even when expressed by small numbers of participants) provide insight into how VSU and other drug use may become embedded in particular institutional settings through assuming meanings and utility for users that are specific to these environments. While previous literature on the aetiology of VSU generally emphasises individual or familial risk factors, this article argues that out-of-home care may function, at least in some instances, as an institutional ‘risk environment’ for VSU and that this should be further explored through future research. Adjusting models of care may offer new strategies for responding to this form of drug use.

publication date

  • 2012