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Friday, 18 June, 1999, 12:20 GMT 13:20 UK
Alcohol's innocent victims
Pub Scene
Thousands of children are affected by their parents' drinking
The lives of about 85,000 Scottish children are being harmed by their parents' drinking, according to research being discussed at a conference.

NCH Action for Children Scotland, the Scottish Council on Alcohol and ChildLine Scotland want to encourage a more co-ordinated approach to helping children whose lives are blighted by alcohol abuse.

Helpline worker
Often children are wary of seeking help
Research found that one in 14 calls by Scottish children to ChildLine Scotland, the children's helpline, was about parents' drinking.

This contrasted with one in 20 calls to the organisation in England.

Anne Houston, of ChildLine Scotland, said often the children must find the courage to make that call.

She said: "One of the reasons they ring ChildLine is because often there is such a stigma around the issue of alcohol and they find it very difficult to go to a lot of other agencies."

A key aim of the conference in Glasgow is to encourage a more co-ordinated response by those agencies involved in dealing with alcohol problems.

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland, she said: "The children tend to fall between the adult alcohol and childcare services, which is why we're very keen to bring those services together.

"There are some very good projects out there but they are few and far between."

Childline logo
Joining forces: ChildLine and other charities
But she stressed that measures must be taken to help children see alcohol abuse as something which must be dealt with and not something that is just part of everyday life.

"One of the things we need to change are attitudes, so that it ceases to be acceptable just as 'wallpaper'," she said.

"Part of the difficulty for children is their sense of loyalty. They often still love their parents and we don't wish to be condemning, nor do the children want to do that.

"It's much more about a public awareness campaign in the same kind of way as perhaps there has been for drunk driving.

"But more in a way of encouraging the parents to seek help rather than being punitive towards them."

The initial awareness campaign would be government-backed, with local drop-in services, respite care and young carers' groups working together.

ChildLine poster
More Scots children seek help
ChildLine said young carers' groups were often crucial because older affected children can end up looking after siblings and even their parents.

The charities are also calling for services at "crisis points" such as weekends and evenings when parental drinking can be at its worst.

Anne Houston also stressed that the problem straddled all social groups and often the perceived link between alcoholism and deprivation was wrong.

She said: "Children from other families, in other areas where they have a sense that people don't expect that to be happening, sometimes find it more difficult to approach agencies or just don't have agencies locally."

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Anne Houston: "Often there is a stigma around the issue of alcohol"
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