How is alcohol misuse affecting the children of parents who drink?


We don’t have accurate statistics on the numbers of children living with alcohol misusing parents. It’s estimated that 79,000 babies in England are living with a parent who is classified as a ‘problematic’ drinker (‘hazardous’ or ‘harmful’).

The Office of the Children’s Commissioner has published a Rapid Evidence Assessment about the impact that alcohol misuse has on the children of the parents who drink. The report will be of particular interest to policy makers and commissioners.

The following 6 research questions were tackled by this work:

  1. What is known about the experiences of children and families where there is parental alcohol misuse and to what extent is this informed by the views of children and young people themselves?
  2. What are the key wider issues associated with PAM (e.g. unemployment, domestic abuse, mental health) and how do they relate to risk/protective factors for children and families?
  3. What is known about protective factors and processes in this population and how they can minimise risk/negative outcomes?
  4. What is known about services, and their delivery, and the impact/benefit of such services for children (and families) where there is PAM and to what extent is this informed by the views of children and young people themselves?
  5. What is the current policy context for children and families where there is PAM and how might it be improved?
  6. Thinking about questions 1 to 5 above, what are the gaps in our knowledge about children affected by PAM and services for these children?

The recommendations from the report are:

Policy recommendations

  • Policies and strategies at all levels focus more strongly on the wide group of children in need of support as a result of parental alcohol misuse and not only on those in need of protection.
  • Policies and strategies take into account the impact on children who may be affected by a range of levels of parental alcohol consumption and not just dependent drinkers.
  • In the development of policies and strategies at local and national level, the links between parental alcohol misuse and domestic violence are taken into account.
  • Local Safeguarding Children’s Boards and newly developing Health and Wellbeing Boards ensure that the issue of parental alcohol misuse is well understood in their local area and that the needs of children and families are addressed in planning and commissioning services, utilising the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment.

Practice recommendations

  • All those involved in working with children are vigilant about problems related to parental alcohol misuse and try to understand what may lie behind troublesome and apparent coping behaviour so that children may feel more encouraged to seek help and their needs are identified.
  • All local areas seek to develop and build on existing effective approaches to inter-agency and partnership work and find ways to reach those children and young people not known to services.
  • Services to children, both directly and together with their families, be increased and include earlier intervention and outreach, drawing on the research into effective approaches. Services should engage with children from the outset in order to respect their views and respond to their needs and should combine practical and emotional support.
  • Relevant training for all professionals who engage with children is made available, both as part of basic professional training and of ongoing learning.

Research recommendations

  • Children’s experience: the specific impact of parental alcohol misuse as distinct from other substance misuse; the impact on groups of children about whom little is known; the impact of different levels and patterns of consumption of alcohol by their families; how children are affected by a combination of parental alcohol misuse and domestic violence.
  • Protective factors and resilience: longitudinal research which looks into how protective factors and processes operate over time.
  • Meeting needs: further evaluative research into how services can benefit children and families; studies into how the response of universal services might be improved.


Silent Voices – Supporting children and young people affected by parental alcohol misuse (Full report – PDF)

Silent Voices – A briefing on the key themes and findings from the report (PDF)

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