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Thursday, July 16, 1998 Published at 11:49 GMT 12:49 UK


Children at risk from drunk parents

Children whose parents drink often suffer from neglect

One million children are living with parents with a drink problem, according to alcohol and children's agencies.

Alcohol Concern, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), ChildLine and National Children's Homes (NCH) are holding a joint conference to raise awareness about the issue.

They believe a joint approach will mean more support for both children and parents with a drink problem.

The conference was motivated by recent research and surveys, showing the extent of the problem, its impact on child abuse and its long-term effects.

Child neglect

The NCH says one in 25 parents drink heavily. This includes alcoholics and those who binge drink. Six per cent are men and two per cent are women.

[ image: Alcohol abuse affects 1m children in the UK]
Alcohol abuse affects 1m children in the UK
Research by Alcohol Concern shows that people with a parent who drinks are four times more likely to suffer from a psychiatric disorder by the age of 15 than the national average.

A recent ChildLine report, Beyond the Limit, found that over 3,000 of its callers in 1995/6 complained that at least one of their parents was abusing alcohol.

The NSPCC says one in four cases of child neglect reported to its Child Protection Helpline is due to drink.

Alcohol was by far the most common form of substance misues mentioned, says the charity, adding that mothers were more likely to be reported for neglect because of alcohol problems. Fathers were often not reported unless drink problems led to physical abuse.

Facing the problem

Some of the charities have begun to tackle the problem. The NSPCC's Kilburn Family Support Project gives support to both parents with alcohol problems and their children.

It brings parents face to face with the effects of drinking on children and shows the link between alcohol abuse and child protection issues.

Michael Dunne, a project worker, said: "The effects of children growing up with a parent who drinks too much can filter through every aspect of the child's life.

"Aside from the tension and violence they might live with, they often lose friends because they are embarrassed by their home life. Schooling and edcuation often suffers because they take on the responsibilities for the home."

Leadership role

The charities want to educate the public and professionals about the effect of drunk parenting.

[ image: Anne Mullins: we need to reduce the shame associated with drunk parents]
Anne Mullins: we need to reduce the shame associated with drunk parents
They also want the government to take a lead in ensuring that agencies dealing with children and families recognise their responsibility to support parents and to reassure children that they will not necessarily risk breaking up their family if they seek help because of a parent's alcohol problem.

Anne Mullins, senior policy officer at NCH, said: "We know from a range of studies that alcohol is an issue in many families with social problems and some families are being broken up because of it.

"Children often blame themselves for the problem. We want to try to remove some of the guilt and shame and break down the stigma around the problem."

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