CoA Week 2018: Children From Homes With Parental Alcohol Problems Need Help
In a powerful editorial, published in The Guardian, UK Member of Parliament Liam Byrne shares parts of his own story of growing up with a father who has alcohol problems and explores recent data on how children are affected – and what the conclusions must be:
This week is international Children of Alcoholics week, and our All-Party Group for Children of Alcoholics in parliament, which includes courageous MPs such as Caroline Flint and Jon Ashworth, has published some shocking insights.
The research that we requested from the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology revealed that 37% of child deaths and serious injuries through neglect were linked to parental alcohol misuse. More than 60% of care applications in England involved misuse of alcohol and/or drugs, and nearly a fifth of children reported feeling embarrassed by seeing their parent drunk. Also, 15% said their bedtime routine had been disrupted as a result of their parents’ drinking. Children living with alcohol-dependent parents reported feeling socially isolated and, just as bad, they were reluctant to seek help due to feelings of stigma, shame and guilt about not wanting to betray parents.
I found the strength to speak out by listening to Flint tell the harrowing story of life with her mum, Wendy. And since our campaign in parliament kicked off two years ago, some progress has been made. The government has admitted that action is needed. Money has been found to support helplines. Nearly 48% of councils now have a plan to help children of alcoholics – up from zero two years ago. Ashworth, whose story of his alcoholic father transfixed the Commons last year, has made campaigning for change a major Labour issue.
Children of parents with alcohol problems deserve help
Research in the UK shows that nearly all local authorities are reducing their budgets for alcohol and other drug treatment services. In more than half of local councils, referrals to alcohol treatment services are decreasing.
These numbers mean that people are not getting the help they need. That is a problem for the people themselves, as well as for their families, and communities. For example, children from families with parental alcohol problems are more likely to develop eating disorders, struggle with mental ill-health and attempt suicide. They are also more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder themselves.
What this means is that the social harm from parents’ alcohol problems affects the children and might potentially cascade down the generations.
Local and national governments needs to prioritize investments in treatment and rehabilitation services, as well as in services for affected children. Alcohol policy best buy measures also need to be implemented to address this epidemic.