Almost 300,000 children live with a “harmful” drinker, according to a new report which outlines the impact of adult drinking on young people’s lives.
Silent Voices: Supporting children and young people affected by parental alcohol misuse also finds that 22 per cent of children, more than 2.5 million, live with a “hazardous” drinker.
The study has been carried out by Dr Maggie Atkinson, England’s Children’s Commissioner.
The research defines hazardous drinkers as people whose drinking increases “the risk of harmful consequences to the user or others”. Harmful drinking, meanwhile, is drinking that results in consequences for physical and mental health.
It is estimated that over 1.5 million people in England and Wales are alcohol dependant and the study also finds that nearly one in three children, around 3.5 million, live with at least one parent who is a binge-drinker.
The research says that the government should pay as much attention to parents who drink too much as it does to those who misuse illegal drugs. It says that the problem is often hidden and does not come to the attention of children’s services.
Affected children often experience isolation and form anti-social characteristics, the research found. They also experience mental health problems, domestic violence and are often living in poverty.
The report praised the work of support groups around the country but said that there is still a lack of proper understanding by teachers and social workers.
It states: “There needs to be much more done generally by schools in terms of alcohol education and awareness, and to advertise services. Children do not necessarily want to be singled out for help.”
The report calls for children’s services to be increased and include earlier intervention and outreach, drawing on research into effective approaches. It adds that school staff need “a better understanding of how parental substance misuse can affect children”.
Researchers spoke to young people from two projects which provide guidance and help for children affected by someone else’s drug or alcohol use or misuse – the National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NACOA) based in Bristol and ”What about me?” in Nottinghamshire.
The report states: “The older children – teenagers and young adults – thought that peer-to-peer support or mentoring would be very valuable, both for them to receive and for them to offer to other children experiencing similar issues growing up with parental alcohol misuse.”
The report emphasised that affected children did not want to be patronised and seen as victims – or to be identified as the “child of an alcoholic”.
In 2011, there were 4,530 calls to the NACOA helpline. One recent caller said: “Finding someone who I felt comfortable talking to was the beginning of everything changing for me. Speaking to someone who listened without interruption and who understood the suffocation of keeping secrets was brilliant.”
Dr Atkinson 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.
“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. It is essential to highlight the significance of this problem to ensure that services are adequately targeted at this high level of hidden harm.” Visit www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk