More than a third of child deaths through neglect are linked to parents drinking.
But children with parents who drink too much are often denied help – because more than half of local councils don’t have any strategy to support them.
And almost all councils are cutting their budgets for alcohol and drug treatment services, as they struggle to cope with cuts in funding from central government.
The effect that parents with a drink problem can have on their children is revealed in a new report commissioned by a group of MPs and members of the House of Lords, led by Birmingham MP Liam Byrne.
Mr Byrne (Lab Hodge Hill) has previously spoken about what life was like growing up as the son of an acholic.
His father, Dermot Byrne, was a senior council manager in Harlow and had a serious drinking problem. He died in 2015.
In an emotional speech to MPS last year, Mr Byrne said: “I know what that insecurity and shame feel like, and I know how it lasts a lifetime.
“I know what it is like to spend lots and lots of time in A&E. I know what it is like to spend lots of time in intensive care units. In my case, I was holding my dad’s hand as he suffered multiple organ failure, only to see him pull through and start drinking again.”
The MP now chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children of Alcoholics, which is calling for more support for children in the same sort of situation.
It asked the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology to look into the scale of the problem, and in a new report it found:
- Between 2011-14, ‘Parental Alcohol Misuse’ (PAM) was implicated in 37% of cases involving the death or serious injury of a child through neglect or abuse in England.
- 18% of children reported feeling embarrassed by seeing their parent drunk, while 15% reported their bedtime routine had been disrupted as a result of their parents’ drinking.
- 61% of care applications in England involved misuse of alcohol and/or drugs.
- Children living with alcohol-dependent parents report feeling socially isolated, and are reluctant to seek help due to feelings of stigma, shame and guilt about not wanting to betray parents: Calls to helplines reveal their chronic worry and fear.
- Children may have to take on caring responsibilities for the affected parent or younger siblings which can negatively impact school attendance and homework.
- ‘Parental Alcohol Misuse’ leads to inconsistent and unpredictable parenting.
The report also noted that reviews of research into parental alcohol misuse identified increased risks of obesity, eating disorders, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder among children, as well as of hospital admissions and injuries.
Mr Byrne said: “Millions of parents drink too much and their misuse of alcohol causes horrific problems for their children.
“Parental Alcohol Misuse scars kids for life and can leads many into a life of drinking too much themselves.
“Our campaign has now won a new commitment from government for a national strategy to stop parental alcohol misuse.
“This new report shows just why the government must act fast to put an effective plan in place.”