On February 9, the UK government’s Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology issued a briefing on Parental Alcohol Misuse (PAM). It follows increasing attention to the issue of parental drinking after several MPs have campaigned for more attention to the issue of ‘Children of Alcoholics’ (CoA).
Released in International Children of Alcoholics Week, the report reveals that alcohol misuse was implicated in 37% of cases of a child’s death or serious injury after abuse or neglect between 2011 and 2014. In addition, 15% of children had their bedtime routine disrupted due to their parents’ drinking and 18% were embarrassed at seeing their parent drunk. The briefing comes as figures from a Freedom of Information investigation show that over half of local authorities do not have a plan to help children of alcoholics. 92% of the 53 councils that responded were cutting budgets for alcohol and drug treatment services. Cuts differed in severity, from 1.1% to 58.1%.
The briefing identifies that Parental Alcohol Misuse can negatively affect children’s physical and mental health, and other outcomes including educational attainment and behaviour. Effects can be acute when experienced in conjunction with other adverse experiences such as domestic abuse, marital conflict, and deprivation. Parental Alcohol Misuse is a common feature in child protection and care proceedings, and places a considerable burden on social services. Key points from the report include:
• The majority of evidence on the effects of parental drinking on children focuses on parents drinking at or above harmful or dependent levels. However, it is unclear at what level of drinking parenting capacity is impaired.
• There are no systematic national data on children affected by parental drinking. It is estimated that between 189,000 and 208,000 children in England live with an alcohol-dependent adult, while 15,500 children live with an adult receiving treatment for alcohol dependence. Estimates are likely to underestimate the scale of the issue due to under-reporting of alcohol consumption, and the unknown number of children whose parents are not in treatment, and who are not known to social services themselves.
• The effects of parental alcohol misuse can start before birth and continue into adult life. Heavy drinking during pregnancy may lead to Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), an under-diagnosed condition that is associated with behavioural and learning difficulties, and increased risk of mental health issues and involvement in crime.
• Parental alcohol misuse disrupts everyday routines and leads to inconsistent and unpredictable parenting. Children may feel isolated, stigmatised, and guilty, and may have to take on caring responsibilities. Experiencing Parental Alcohol Misuse is associated with a greater risk of mental and physical health problems, including eating disorders and depression. Parental Alcohol Misuse is also associated with neglect and domestic abuse, and child protection cases involving Parental Alcohol Misuse have poorer welfare outcomes for children.
• A number of protective factors, including selfesteem and having a trusted adult role model, help children to be resilient and to have positive outcomes despite experiencing Parental Alcohol Misuse. Family-focused services improve outcomes for alcohol misusers as well as children, and are cost effective.
• The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children of Alcoholics and the Office of the Children’s Commissioner have called for greater awareness around the effects of Parental Alcohol Misuse among practitioners and those working with children. Recommendations include producing a national strategy, increasing the availability of support for families affected, and improving data collection on families accessing support.