Children living with parental alcohol abuse are being missed by system, report finds

A children's commissioner report has found social services support for alcohol misuse is failing to look beyond the impact on the individual

child kicking bottle
REX/London News Pictures

Children living with parental alcohol misuse are missing out on support if their parents have not already sought treatment, according to a report by the children’s commissioner.

The report used local authority data and interviews with children, parents and professionals in three different local authorities.

It found that existing support  focuses on the adult or young person’s own alcohol use, but no specific strategy exists to support children dealing with the alcohol misuse of a parent.

The scale of the problem has been estimated based on adult treatment data and therefore understanding of the impact of parental alcohol misuse is “limited to households where the adult is engaging with treatment services,” the report said.

Joanna Manning, national lead on substance misuse for The Children’s Society, said: “Children and young people are suffering the impact of their parents’ drinking for a long time before it comes to the notice of the authorities – if at all. Even then, the routes to help and the services available are ad hoc and vary across the country.

“Local authorities tend to focus on young people’s own drinking without consideration that it might be learnt or normalised behaviour from their parents. Equally, not enough is being done to address and support parents who drink, in order to reduce the impact upon children and families.”

The report identified a “lack of recognition and recording of alcohol related problems by some social workers in children’s services.” In some cases, even when an adult is engaging with alcohol treatment, screening services do not pick up on whether they have children and extend the support available beyond the person undertaking the treatment, the report found.

The report recommended a more joined up multi-agency approach. One case study of a screening tool developed in Sheffield, which made information about problematic alcohol use available to social workers across both children’s and adults’ services, showed this resulted in an increase in children living with alcohol misuse accessing support.

Maggie Atkinson, children’s commissioner for England said: “Parents and carers must be made aware of the effects their problem drinking can have on children and young people, and health and social care services must get better at providing effective co-ordinated responses.”

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2 Responses to Children living with parental alcohol abuse are being missed by system, report finds

  1. Tracey M October 22, 2014 at 3:07 pm #

    As the partner of an alcoholic, I can wholeheartedly recommend Al Anon for relatives and friends of problems drinkers. I have found support with Al Anon which is not available elsewhere; with those who know exactly what it is like to live with this illness. Professionals such as health workers and social workers are welcome to attend open meetings to find out more about how Al Anon can help their clients. For young people,
    Al-Ateen exists in some areas.

    More information is available from http://www.al-anonuk.org.uk/

  2. Maria C October 23, 2014 at 8:42 pm #

    There was no mention in this article of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). This is a permanent yet preventable disability caused by prenatal alcohol exposure. Children with FASD who are living in a family where their parents are unsupported are perhaps the most vulnerable of all. http://www.fasdnetwork.org