Help kids in drink abuse homes, says commission

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From the BBC

The government should pay as much attention to the parents who drink too much as it does to those who misuse illegal drugs, says a report.

Research carried out for the Children’s Commissioner for England suggests more than 90,000 babies in the UK live with a problematic drinker.

Maggie Atkinson said large numbers of affected children received little support from social services.

But the government said its reforms would help identify problem drinkers.

Figures suggest more than a fifth of all children in the UK, approximately 2.5 million, are living with a hazardous drinker, defined as someone whose alcoholic intake could have harmful consequences for themselves or others.

‘Lost childhoods’

Ms Atkinson is urging the government to give as much attention to alcohol abuse among parents as to other forms of drug misuse, and to train the relevant authorities to spot the signs of alcoholism in families earlier.

She said alcohol abuse by parents harmed more children than the misuse of illegal drugs, yet the problem was not taken as seriously.

She said action was needed to prevent more children “losing their childhood”.

The Office of the Children’s Commissioner (OCC) published a report called Silent Voices – supporting children and young people affected by parental alcohol misuse, to highlight the extent of the problem.

A girl in Nottinghamshire told the authors of the report: “My brother, who is 10, says he wants to end it all, my mum also says she wants to die. She really needs to talk to someone but there is no-one? I am not getting any sleep. I am scared what I will find when I wake up or what might happen whilst I am sleeping.”

The OCC commissioned the Community Research Company to look into the problem and its research suggested 79,000 babies aged under one in England are living with a parent who is classified as a problematic drinker, which they extrapolated to 93,500 babies in the UK.

‘Hidden harm’

The research also suggests 26,000 babies in England are living with a parent who is a “dependent drinker”, which is equivalent to 31,000 across the UK.

Ms Atkinson concluded: “At a time of great changes in the health service, to developments in programmes to address ‘troubled families’, of changes to statutory guidance on inter-agency working and of pressure on all services due to funding cuts, it is essential to highlight the significance of this problem to ensure that services are adequately targeted at this high level of hidden harm.”

She added: “Over the last 10 to 15 years there have been improvements in policy in terms of recognising and attempting to respond to children affected by parental substance misuse in the UK. Despite this, there remain limitations to the progress made in respect of alcohol misuse. The improvement in support for children requires a co-ordinated, collaborative approach.”

A government spokesman said: “The earlier that help is given to vulnerable children and families, the more chance there is of turning lives around and protecting children.

“Our reforms are focused on cutting unnecessary bureaucracy so professionals can identify and tackle problems as early as possible.

“By overhauling the alcohol licensing laws, local communities will have more power to tackle problem pubs and clubs. We are working with the alcohol industry which has pledged to take one billion units out of the UK’s alcohol intake and introduce a minimum unit price.”