The Alcohol and Families Alliance together with the Institute of Alcohol Studies and Alcohol Focus Scotland are working on a new research project into parental drinking and its impact on children. The project aims to gather evidence from a wide range of stakeholders to address the impact of alcohol on children across a range of drinking levels and patterns and identify means of supporting parents and children where alcohol use may be having a negative impact.
Key research questions:
- The negative impact of parental drinking on children
- Attitudes towards drinking within the family
- What services are available to children and families affected by alcohol misuse
- What services and policies are likely to improve the situation
Two inquiries have been held in London and Scotland so far to gather oral evidence from a selection of key participants with experience in the area of alcohol.
The project is now seeking written evidence on the subject from a wide range of stakeholders that feel the project is relevant to their professional experience. Recent observations from Wayne Gault of Aberdeenshire ADP highlights:
- Alcohol advertising in non-18 cinema features exposes young people to a ‘normalisation’ of drinking. This then poses difficulties to produce compelling and credible messages to parents that exposing alcohol to children increases the likelihood and amount they will drink.
- Local licensing authorities in Aberdeenshire are considering withdrawing the support for occasional license events held in premises associated with children, i.e. schools, as it signals drinking being a ‘normal commodity.’
- Many young people are supplied alcohol at home which clarifies the widely held ‘controlled-supply-at-home-prevents-irresponsible-drinking-away-from-home’ belief is flawed.
- Aberdeenshire ADP promotes an alcohol-free ‘pregnant pause’ campaign and advises the safest way to avoid the risks of foetal alcohol spectrum disorder is to abstain from drinking whilst pregnant.
In his observations, Wayne raises several key points to consider:
- Advice on the impact of parental drinking on young children was barely existent in recent years due to a fear of criticism against the ‘social norms’ of drinking, however, through the Scottish Governments ‘getting it right for every child’ agenda, fears are lifted and now parental alcohol consumption is a routine enquiry and workers are ready to explore the issues raised.
- Children have the human right to grow up free from exposure to other people’s drinking, including their parents.
- How drunkenness in public is dealt with is an area of potential policy conflict. Currently, being drunk in public is not seen as an offence unless other offences take place. Instead, it is seen as a community safety issue and emergency services are required to take them to a safe place. A safe place being more notably their home where resident children may live.
Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs highlighted several observations towards the project as evidence:
- SFAD carried out a survey in 2015/16 reaching 800 young people aged 16-25. An issue raised was parental drinking is negatively impacting some young people’s attendance at school.
- Family dynamics change with parental drinking and many young people are taking on the caring role in the family to support their drunken family member.
- Many more young adults are choosing not to drink if they have lived with a parent/carer who uses alcohol at problematic levels.
- Through our helpline and family support groups, large numbers of families tell us about their concerns over holiday periods/social events and the availability of alcohol in day to day life.
- Family support services are inconsistent across Scotland, with pockets of excellent family inclusive practice work in some areas whilst others are lacking in any consistent/direct family support via ADP.
- Services to improve the issues are the Family Inclusive Practice CRAFT programme which helps families to understand the nature and extent of alcohol use on children and young people.
- Young people need to know where to access support when needed. A wider holistic approach that seeks to minimise stigma which we know is a massive barrier to children and young people accessing support in the first place in the form of shame/embarrassment.
- Policies need to be more consistent and more open dialogue and wider community responses to alcohol misuse and parental drinking should be raised.
The project is gathering a grand amount of evidence from key stakeholders and charities associated with alcohol. Those who have directly witnessed the impact of parental drinking at all drinking levels and patterns are highlighting that levels of drinking, whether it be problematic or ‘moderate’ is still bringing negative impact into a child’s life. Key observations from Wayne Gault include the problem of alcohol advertising and how drunkenness is handled in public as being two areas of exposure. Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs highlights that young people are facing difficulties at home and at school and that family inclusive practice services across Scotland should be more prevalent and consistent to support the issue of children and families affected by substance use.