Social workers ‘underestimating risk of parental alcohol abuse’

Social workers tend to class drinking as putting children “in need” rather than “at risk”, says children's commissioner.

Social workers are treating parental drinking less seriously than other forms of substance misuse despite nearly one in three children living in homes where at least one parent binge drinks according to a report by the children’s commissioner for England.

The commissioner’s Silent Voices report says that problems with parental drinking come to social workers’ attention later than issues with drug use and that social workers tend to class drinking as putting children “in need” rather than “at risk”.

“The effects of parents’ alcohol misuse on children may be hidden for years while children try to both cope with the impact on them, and manage the consequences for their families,” said children’s commissioner Maggie Atkinson.

She said more support services were needed to help families with alcohol problems earlier and that social workers needed more training so that they do not underestimate the risk parental drinking poses to children.

“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,” she said.

But Amy Norris, a spokeswoman for the College of Social Work, said social workers assessed alcohol misuse on the same basis as for abuse of other substances.

“As a social worker, I look at the impact of any substance misuse on the child and that’s how I make my assessment of how to help the family and the child,” she said.

“I wouldn’t say alcohol misuse is treated any less seriously than substance misuse because you’re not looking at the actual substance – you’re looking at how it impacts on the family and if the impact is the same for someone taking crack cocaine as for someone taking alcohol then you would act accordingly.”

More information

Community Care Inform research review: Evidence-based research on alcohol misuse among parents

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