More must be done to protect children from parents' problem drinking

08 October 2014

Children will not get the help they need until there is a specific focus on the impact of alcohol misuse by parents according to a report published today.

Commissioned by the Office of the Children's Commissioner from The Children's Society, the report, "I think you need someone to show you what help there is,": Parental alcohol misuse - uncovering and responding to children's needs at a local level looks at ways of estimating the number of children affected by parental alcohol misuse and at the help available to them. Based on research with children and young people, alcohol misusing parents and professionals who work with them in three areas of England, the report finds that local areas are committed to addressing alcohol misuse but that the focus on the effect on children of parental drinking still needs much work. Some local services for adults with alcohol problems and staff in children's services, may fail to adequately identify children's needs and assist them in getting help or protection. It also finds that local services do not all work together effectively to measure and address the impact on children of parental alcohol misuse.

The study identifies the steps service providers and co-ordinating bodies need to take, including health and social care services, to address children's safety and diminish the impact of problem drinking on children. These include the need to consistently share information across services and to develop joint approaches to commissioning and effective local strategies which involve all agencies. Those working with adults should also receive training to help them talk to parents who misuse alcohol about the impact their drinking may be having on their children and all those working with children and families need training to assist them in recognising the difficulties children may be experiencing so that they can get help.

The report follows the publication of Silent Voices by the Office of the Children's Commissioner in 2012 which reported that nearly one in three (30%) of children live with at least one parent who is a binge drinker and a fifth (22%) live with a hazardous drinker. It recommends Health and Wellbeing Boards and Local Children's Safeguarding Boards work together closely to identify and support children in families where there is alcohol misuse.

Talking about the impact that parental alcohol misuse has on children, a 13 year old girl who took part in the study said, ‘The anger goes round and round in my head, I get dizzy and hot and I can't cope I just burst. I have anger issues.'

A 16 year old girl said, ‘I realised when I went into care that this didn't have to be the way.'

Maggie Atkinson, Children's Commissioner for England said, ‘Children have a right to be kept safe from harm and adults have a duty to protect them, and this includes the damage caused by parents' alcohol misuse. Parents and carers must be made aware of the effects their problem drinking can have on children and young people, and health and social care services must get better at providing effective co-ordinated responses. Problem drinking is frighteningly common. It not only causes problems for the drinker but also, all those around them, including their children. The social and economic cost is immense.'

Jenny Clifton, Principal Policy Adviser at the Office of the Children's Commissioner said, ‘We must listen to what children say about the help they and their families need when parents drink too much. The local authorities who took part in the study are committed to addressing the problems children experience from their parents' alcohol misuse. They are doing important work to identify and address the problems but acknowledge that there is still much to do.'

Joanna Manning, National Lead on Substance Misuse for The Children's Society, said: ‘Children and young people are suffering the impact of their parents' drinking for a long time before it comes to the notice of the authorities - if at all. Even then, the routes to help and the services available are ad hoc and vary across the country. Too many people are in denial about the scale of the problem and the level of harm caused. It's also the case that local authorities tend to focus on young people's own drinking without consideration that it might be learnt or normalised behaviour from their parents. Equally, not enough is being done to address and support parents who drink, in order to reduce the impact upon children and families'.

Notes to editors

1. "I think you need someone to show you what help there is." Parental Alcohol Misuse: uncovering and responding to children's needs at a local level is available on the Office of the Children's Commissioner's Website (LINK).

2. The report follows publication in 2012 of Silent Voices - Supporting children and young people affected by alcohol misuse (LINK) by the Office of the Children's Commissioner.

3. The report was commissioned by the Office of the Children's Commissioner (OCC) from The Children's Society. The OCC is a national public sector organisation led by the Children's Commissioner for England, Dr Maggie Atkinson. We promote and protect children's rights in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and, as appropriate, other human rights legislation and conventions.

The post of Children's Commissioner for England was established by the Children Act 2004. The Act makes us responsible for working on behalf of all children in England and in particular, those whose voices are least likely to be heard. It says we must speak for wider groups of children on the issues that are not-devolved to regional Governments. These include immigration, for the whole of the UK, and youth justice, for England and Wales.

The Children and Families Act 2014 strengthened the Children's Commissioner's remit and role. It provided the legal mandate for the Commissioner and those who work in support of her remit at the OCC to promote and protect children's rights. In particular, we are expected to focus on the rights of children within the new section 8A of the Children Act 2004, or other groups of children whom we consider are at particular risk of having their rights infringed. This includes those who are in or leaving care or living away from home, and those receiving social care services. The Act also allows us to provide advice and assistance to and to represent these children.

4. The Children's Society is a national charity that works to improve the lives of the most disadvantaged children and young people through campaigning and the provision of frontline support services.

5. The Children's Society Stars National Initiative is a national hub of information, guidance and resources on parental substance misuse and the impact upon children and families. For further information visit