12 Mar 2009

A major national conference aimed at helping children whose parents misuse drugs or alcohol was held on 12 March by The Children’s Society in central Nottingham. At this conference, practitioners from across the country heard from leading experts in the field about using joined-up working to support children & families where there is parental substance misuse.

At the conference, The Children’s Society launched the second phase of its pioneering national initiative to highlight the problems faced by children whose parents misuse drugs or alcohol. The new phase, sponsored by Comic Relief and the DCSF, aims to follow the huge success of the first initiative started in 2004.

The STARS National Initiative will work across the country to promote the needs and rights of children and young people affected by their parent’s substance misuse. The initiative will provide information, support and guidance for both the children affected and practitioners working in the field and will include practitioner networks, learning seminars and the voices of children and young people.

Nottingham is taking the lead on addressing parental substance misuse, through the work of the STARS project and local agencies. Following the government’s 2008 Drug Strategy emphasis on supporting the whole family, this conference provides an opportunity to share best practice on the issue.

The STARS project is one of the few initiatives in the country that seeks to focus upon the child while building relationships with the family and trying to join up the services that he or she needs. This family-oriented approach is advocated by the National Treatment Agency.Speakers at the conference included:

  • David Chater, Substance Misuse Team Leader at the DCSF, speaking on the Government’s work to help children and families affected by parental substance misuse
  • Sarah Bernays, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, speaking on the Family Life Research Project, a qualitative study of family life in the context of parental drug and alcohol use
  • Kathy Evans, Policy Director at The Children’s Society, speaking about The Good Childhood Inquiry
  • Jez Stannard, Young People’s Programme Manager, National Treatment Agency, giving his organisation’s perspective on parental substance misuse
  • Edwina Brocklesby, Director, Parents for Children and FACT Centre of Excellence, discussing the foetal alcohol spectrum, the social and health implications of alcohol abuse.

Joanna Manning, programme manager at The Children's Society’s STARS project, commented: “We are delighted to be involved with a conference that not only promotes our work, but the role that the city of Nottingham has in addressing this important national issue. Parental substance misuse can be a serious barrier to a good childhood, yet hopefully the National Initiative will enable these children to receive effective and consistent support and to be heard”.

Children and Young People’s Minister Delyth Morgan said:
“At the very heart of the Government’s Drug strategy is a focus on early intervention and getting parents the help they need to tackle substance misuse. Children whose parents have drug or alcohol problems can suffer from poor performance at school and are at greater risk of becoming drug users themselves. By prioritising parents to receive treatment we know we can help reduce these harms and improve the lives of both children and the wider family.”

Peter Argall, UK Grant Manager at Comic Relief, said: “Comic Relief is pleased to be working with The Children Society in supporting the development of the national Practitioners Network in England. One of the key issues in responding to the needs of children/young people with substance using parents is a greater sharing of information on research and practice, as well as cross sector working at a regional and local level.  We believe that the Network will help drive forward the alcohol hidden harm agenda as well as providing support to practitioners  in ensuring services are best able to meet the needs of families where alcohol is a problem.”