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.

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.”

Notes for Editors: Alcohol Concern and The Children’s Society are calling for four key recommendations in the report Swept Under the Carpet: Government should ensure that parental substance misuse and related domestic abuse becomes a mandatory part of all social work degree courses and launch a rolling education programme for those already qualified.

  1. Government should ensure that parental alcohol misuse and alcohol related domestic abuse are addressed within local commissioning arrangements for both adults and children’s services and that partnership working is made a condition for funding.
  2. Government should commission a resource for professionals to use with children affected by parental alcohol misuse and support the delivery at local level of information for parents on the risk of heavy drinking to children.
  3. Government should launch a national inquiry into the impact of parental substance misuse on children and the cost implications for society.

NfP Synergy Survey of 1,000 adults carried out in July-August 2010 found that:

  • 87% of people surveyed thought heavy drinking by parents had a negative impact on children and families
  • Eight out of ten adults agree that heavy drinking among parents is a serious problem for children in the UK.
  • 63% strongly agreed that a parent who drinks heavily is as harmful to a child as a parent

Related pages AAW 2010: Parental alcohol misuse Alcohol Awareness Week 2010 Embrace Swept under the carpet: children affected by parental alcohol misuse.

Download the full report, Swept under the carpet, here (pdf 970kb)