Warning over parent alcohol abuse 'child effect'

Lager and cider on sale Parental drinking is a bigger problem than acknowledged, the report says

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Millions of children are at risk of neglect because of a parent's drinking, and yet the problem is being ignored, say charities.

Alcohol Concern and the Children's Society want social workers to have more compulsory training on how to deal with alcohol abuse within families.

Their report estimates 2.6m children live with a parent whose drinking could lead to neglect.

A body representing social workers said alcohol posed more problems than drugs.

Unsurprisingly, a poll carried out by Alcohol Concern in July found an overwhelming majority thought that heavy drinking by parents had a negative impact on children - many thought it was as harmful as drug abuse.

However, the two charities say that the scale of the problem is not fully recognised.

The parents of the 2.6 million children are defined as "hazardous" drinkers - either because of the sheer amount or frequency of their drinking, or because their drinking, even at a lesser level, leads to other problems, such as not being able to get up in the morning, or fulfil "expected duties".

Of those 2.6m children, 700,000 are being raised by a parent defined as an alcoholic.

No training

Despite alcohol or substance misuse being suggested as a factor in more than half of social worker cases which progress to the "serious review" stage, there is relatively little emphasis placed on the problem within social worker training.

Recent research suggested that one third of social workers had received no training on alcohol or drugs, and, of the remainder, half had been given three hours or less.

Bob Reitemeier, the 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.

Start Quote

Millions of children are left to do their best in incredibly difficult circumstances”

End Quote Don Shenker Alcohol Concern

"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."

Mandatory substance abuse training for social workers was recommended in a 2003 report from the government's own drug advisory group.

Alcohol Concern suggested that the system currently "sweeps the problem under the carpet".

Chief executive Don Shenker said: "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."

Groups representing social workers agreed with the report's recommendations.

Dr Sarah Galvani, who chairs the British Association of Social Workers Special Interest Group in Alcohol and Other Drugs, said training for both newly-qualified and existing social workers was "lacking".

"Problematic alcohol abuse 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 as they can in what are often very complex and challenging situations."

Public health minister Anne Milton said health service reforms would help local communities put in place services tailored to tackle problems such as this.

She said: "This report highlights the harm that millions of children face because their parents drink too much alcohol.

"It paints a shocking picture, which is why we must make sure that we identify early on, children and families that need support."

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