18 Oct 2010

A new report by national charities, Alcohol Concern and The Children’s Society calls for a national inquiry into the impact of parental alcohol misuse on children, as a new survey commissioned by the charities finds high levels of public concern over harmful drinking among parents.

Heavy drinking by parents has a negative impact

In a poll carried out in July for the charities, 87% of people surveyed thought heavy drinking by parents had a negative impact on children and families. 84% of respondents thought parents misusing alcohol is as harmful to children as parents who use drugs. The Chief Executives of both charities highlight research showing that 2.6m children live with a parent whose drinking puts them at risk of neglect and 705,000 live with a dependent drinker. They argue that a national inquiry into the scale of harm and impact on society could force local areas to act quicker to protect children.

The report Swept Under the Carpet by Alcohol Concern and The Children’s Society, launched today at the House of Lords, also calls for mandatory social work training as recent research found that one third of social workers received no training on alcohol or drugs and half received just three hours of training or less. More than 100 children as young as five contact ChildLine every week with worries about their parents drinking. 78% of young offenders who misuse alcohol grew up in homes with parental alcohol abuse and domestic abuse.

Alcohol Concern Chief Executive, Don Shenker said: “It’s shocking that in spite of the worrying numbers of children affected by parents’ heavy drinking and domestic abuse, so little is being done to address this. The whole system sweeps the problem under the carpet and together with the secrecy and stigma involved, millions of children are left to do their best in incredibly difficult circumstances. A government inquiry must look into all aspects of parental alcohol misuse so that we can improve outcomes for these children.”

Bob Reitemeier, Chief Executive of The Children's Society said: “I cannot stress strongly enough the harmful impact that substance abuse can have on both children and whole families; it is imperative that everyone understands these risks and we believe that education is the key. We are calling on the Government to make sure that everyone who needs either training or education to deal with parental substance abuse is given the appropriate assistance.”

Chair of the British Association of Social Workers Special Interest Group in Alcohol and other Drugs, Dr Sarah Galvani, said: “Problematic alcohol use by parents is highlighted by social workers as far more prevalent than drug use. Alongside the overlapping experiences of domestic violence and mental ill health, parental alcohol and other drug use are the three factors that repeatedly put children at risk of serious harm. We must support social workers to work as best they can in what are often very complex and challenging situations. This starts with excellent training in these issues at qualifying and post qualifying levels, which currently is lacking.”

Additional resources

'Ask Me About Me' is a Children's Society DVD resource designed for awareness-raising and training on the impact of a parent's drug or alcohol misuse on children, available through our online shop.

Notes to Editors:

Facts and Figures from Swept Under the Carpet – Children affected by parental alcohol misuse:

  • Recent research suggests that 2.6 million children are living with parents who are drinking hazardously. This does not include children living with binge drinkers.
  • More than 100 children, including children as young as five, contact ChildLine every week with worries about their parent’s drinking or drug use.
  • There is evidence of substance misuse in 57% of serious case reviews (of serious or fatal child abuse).
  • In a study of four London Boroughs, 62% of all children subject to care proceedings were cases involving parental substance misuse.
  • Alcohol plays a part in 25-33% of known cases of child abuse; and alcohol use is a feature in a majority of domestic abuse offences.
  • In a study of young offending cases where the young person was also misusing alcohol, 78% had a history of parental alcohol abuse or domestic abuse within the family.
  • In a survey of 250 recently qualified social workers, one third reported receiving no training on substance misuse on their training course whilst half of all respondents had received half a day or less.
  • Only 63% of people strongly agreed that a parent who drinks heavily is as harmful to a child as a parent who takes drugs.
  • Eight out of ten adults agree that heavy drinking among parents is a serious problem for children in the UK.
  • 84% of adults agree that parents taking illegal drugs are a serious problem for children in the UK. 64% strongly agree. A substantial 28% of the 16-24 age group disagree.
  • Alcohol Concern is the national agency on alcohol misuse campaigning for effective alcohol policy and improved services for people whose lives are affected by alcohol-related problems.

Alcohol Concern Chief Executive, Don Shenker is available for interview. Contact 07588 117 849 or email press@alcoholconcern.org.uk

The Children’s Society Director of Children and Young People, Penny Nicholls, is available for interview. Contact 020 7841 4422 or email david.hudi-dinnage@childrenssociety.org.uk