Why We Must Look Out For Children Affected By Parental Problems

Many mums and dads enjoy an occasional social drink. But for some parents, sadly, alcohol becomes a problem, and they are not the only people affected. I was really shocked by the results of research carried out by The Children's Society which shows that parents' alcohol abuse is damaging the lives of an estimated 700,000 teenagers across the UK. The impact can take its toll on young lives, and we found that pressures arising from misuse of drink or drugs can lead to children developing mental health problems, running away from home or being excluded from school. Our survey of 3,000 children aged 10-17 also found that many parents struggling with alcohol are also dealing with other issues in their lives. We estimate that more than 1.6 million young people have a parent with depression or anxiety and 1.7 million are living in households with problem debt. In two in five cases where a child was affected by a parent's alcohol abuse, they had also lived with domestic violence, while more than a quarter had experienced homelessness. These issues would be difficult for anyone to deal with but for young people still growing up themselves, and facing the same pressures as their peers - like making friends and preparing for exams - things can get too much. In some cases there is a complete role reversal, with children caring for parents who are drinking heavily, sometimes as a way of coping with other difficulties in their lives, like mental or physical ill-health. Children and families in these situations are in desperate need of support, yet many are suffering in silence. There are addiction programmes for parents who need help in some areas of the country, but other issues in their lives may mean they do not realise they have a problem or access the help they need. However, these services are often focussed on parents rather than providing support for children in the household. Young people also need 1:1 support to unpick the blame, anger and frustration they may be feeling as well as access to help like peer support groups so they know they're not alone. Yet at a time when demand for council children's services is rising, severe Government funding cuts are leaving more children and their families to deal with problems alone. We are really concerned that without additional investment in this vital early support, more families will quickly reach crisis point and the risks for the children involved will grow. Specialist services working with families to combat alcohol misuse, support for teenagers whose parents have mental health issues, and safe spaces for young people to go when pressures at home mount, may become ever harder to find. That is why we are calling on the Government to use this month's Autumn Budget to urgently address the funding shortfall for local council children's services, which will reach an estimated £2bn by 2020 according to the Local Government Association. Reinstating this much-needed funding would give councils a better chance of identifying children in families affected by alcohol misuse and ensuring they receive the timely support they need to stay safe and well. No child deserves to have their happiness or future prospects blighted by issues facing their parents - but even beginning to make this simple ambition a reality will continue to prove difficult without urgent Government action to plug the funding gap. • Children and parents with concerns can contact the confidential helpline run by the National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NACOA) on 0800 358 3456 or at helpline@nacoa.org.uk or call Childline on 0800 1111.