Parental alcohol misuse is not taken as seriously

Published on Tuesday, 11 September 2012 09:20
Posted by Scott Buckler

The misuse of alcohol by parents negatively affects the lives and harms the wellbeing of more children than does the misuse of illegal drugs

Hundreds of thousands of children are affected yet too often, parental alcohol misuse is not taken as seriously, in spite of alcohol being addictive, widely advertised, far easier to obtain, and legal.

In a new report today, 'Silent Voices - supporting children and young people affected by parental alcohol misuse', the Office of the Children's Commissioner (OCC) highlights the extent of the problem which remains largely hidden. Many affected children never come to the notice of children's social care services. The Community Research Company, with Lorna Templeton and Jon Adamson, undertook the OCC's research.

Research already published on the scale of this problem across the UK estimates:

  • Nearly 1 in 3 (30%) of children live with at least one parent who is a binge drinker (between 3.3 - 3.5 million children)  
  • A fifth (22%) live with a hazardous drinker (over 2.5 million children) 
  • Around 79,000 babies aged under 1 years old in England are living with a parent who is classified as a 'problematic' drinker ('hazardous' or 'harmful'). This is equivalent to 93,500 babies in the UK 
  • Around 26,000 babies under 1 in England are living with a parent who would be classified as a 'dependent' drinker. This is equivalent to 31,000 across the UK.

Maggie Atkinson, Children's Commissioner for England, said:

"The effects of parents' alcohol misuse on children may be hidden for years, while children try both to cope with the impact on them, and manage the consequences for their families. Our research gives a timely reality check, but more importantly a fresh perspective by drawing attention to what children say about the problems it causes in their own lives, now. It does not concern only child protection professionals, though alcohol abuse can put children's safety at sustained, serious risk. The problem affects large numbers of children who never come to the notice of children's social care. They should not need to do so if there are services prepared to support them and their families at an earlier stage."

"At a time of great changes  in health service, to developments in programmes to address 'troubled families', of changes to statutory guidance on interagency working and of pressure on all services due to funding cuts, it is essential to highlight the significance of this problem to ensure that services are adequately targeted at this high level of hidden harm."

The report contains powerful messages from children which must be heard, and acted on. They say that the casual attitude of British society to the harmful potential of drinking too much (alcohol) must change. If we act on what they say, we might just prevent some children from losing their childhoods, says the Children's Commissioner.

Children and young people told the Children's Commissioner:

"My brother who is 10 says he wants to end it all, my mom also says she wants to die. She really needs to talk to someone but there is no one? I am not getting any sleep. I am scared what I will find when I wake up or what might happen whilst I am sleeping." (Girl aged 10, supported by What About Me (WAM) Project, Nottinghamshire)

"I need somewhere safe to go quickly when mum starts drinking and cutting herself but where can I go?" (Young person in WAM focus group)

"I won't tell anyone but I write in my notebook and show it to Sharon my social worker. My parents found my book and they were so angry, they said that I had let them down by writing it for everyone to read."  (Young person in WAM focus group)

The recommendations in the report are directed at Government, policy makers, health and social care professionals, and those who commission and provide local services. Over the last 10 to 15 years there have been improvements in policy in terms of recognising and attempting to respond to children affected by parental substance misuse in the UK. Despite this, there remain limitations to the progress made in respect of alcohol misuse. The improvement in support for children requires a coordinated, collaborative approach. It is a problem with which parents must seek help, and one we all need to address.

Source: ©Children's Commissioner

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