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Exploring the links between alcohol dependency, parental conflict and child outcomes


24 Jun 2019

Andrew Brown, senior programme manager at Public Health England (PHE), explains why this week's 'Children, parental conflict and public services' conferences include a workshop focusing on alcohol dependency and its impacts.

Public Health England estimates there are 120,000 adults who are both dependent on alcohol and living with children – nationally that is about 200,000 children growing up in these circumstances.

But only one in four of those parents with an alcohol problem are likely to be in treatment for their dependence. This matters because children who grow up in households where a parent is dependent on alcohol are at risk of a range of poor immediate and longer-term outcomes, relating to their physical and psychological health and their education and social outcomes.

Last year about one in five child in need assessments recorded alcohol as a factor in the assessment. The Troubled Families programme found that 6% of families being supported included an alcohol-dependent parent, which is three times higher than in the general population. The most recent analysis of serious case reviews where a child had been seriously injured or killed found that alcohol was a factor in over one-third of cases.

In many cases, parents with an alcohol dependency aren't just trying to cope with that, but are also experiencing mental ill-health or have relationships that are characterised by conflict or violence and abuse. As recent research by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner found, living in these circumstances can make children vulnerable. This is reflected in findings from calls to the NSPCC, where one young person is reported as saying:

“There have been times when she’s so drunk that I have to look after my younger siblings by giving them food and then put my mum to bed. I’m always on edge in case she drinks and I have to look after them again, I’ve had to do it for years. I don’t know who can help us. My mum told me if social services know then they’ll take me into care.”

The government's programme to support children of alcohol dependent parents recognises that there is more to be learnt about how systems and services can better identify and support children and families as well as to expand the capacity to do so. The Department of Health and Social Care and Department for Work and Pensions have invested £6 million over the next two years in a range of projects across local authorities and the voluntary sector. This includes £4.5 million across nine areas via an innovation fund, which areas are using to explore a range of ideas for changing their systems and services to better meet the needs of their local communities.

The workshop we are running at EIF’s ‘Children, parental conflict and public services’ conferences in London and Manchester this week will be an opportunity to find out more about the evidence for the prevalence of the parental alcohol problems and the harms that are caused to children, to explore the links between parental alcohol use and family conflict, and to hear more about what the innovation fund areas are doing.