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3.11 Children of Alcohol Misusing Parents


  1. The Child
  2. Concerns
  3. Referrals
  4. Assessment and Initial Child Protection Conference

1. The Child

The effects on children of the misuse of alcohol by one or both parents or carers are complex and may vary in time, which is why a thorough assessment of needs and risk of harm is important. In some cases the misuse of alcohol may be one factor which, when linked to domestic violence and abuse or mental illness, may increase the risks to the child.

The circumstances of children must be carefully assessed not only to consider immediate risks but also the long term effects on the child of their parents’ alcohol misuse.

The children of parents who misuse alcohol are at increased risk of developing alcohol problems themselves and of being separated from their parents. Research demonstrates that children who themselves start drinking at an early age are at greater risk of unwanted sexual encounters and injuries through accidents and fighting.

2. Concerns

The health and development of an unborn child may be affected by the parent’s alcohol misuse. Rarely, new born babies may experience withdrawal symptoms which may interfere with the parent/child bonding process. 

Babies may experience a lack of basic health care and poor stimulation and older children may experience poor school attendance, anxiety about their parents’ health and taking on a caring role for the parent or siblings.

 The parent’s practical caring skills can be affected by the misuse, for example:

  • Lack of attention to basic physical needs
  • Lack of control of emotions
  • Impaired judgement

3. Referrals

Alcohol abuse is one of the factors which can lead to child abuse and/or Neglect. Where it exists the normal process applies but professionals, when confronted with a child in an alcohol-misusing environment, should ask themselves “What is it like for a child in this environment?” If they cannot satisfy themselves that the child is not being harmed, they must refer the child to Children, Education and Families – see Referrals (including Referrals Pathway) Procedure

The Common Assessment Framework will assist in determining the level of vulnerability of the child and at what point a referral should be made. It should not be assumed that all children of alcohol abusing parents are at risk of abuse or Neglect.

4. Assessment and Initial Child Protection Conference.

Children, Education and Families will consider whether it is appropriate to undertake a Child and Family Assessment in relation to all such referrals. 

They will always undertake a Child and Family Assessment, including in appropriate cases, a Child Protection Assessment, of all pre-school children in an alcohol-misusing environment.

The Assessments will consider and take account of whether the person concerned is hiding or denying their alcohol misuse; whether they are engaged in any rehabilitation programme; whether they receive support from a partner, family or friends; the impact of the alcohol misuse on the quality of care given to the child and the day-to-day environment of the child. 

Throughout the assessment process and where it is decided to call an Initial Child Protection Conference, those agencies who have worked with the parents in relation to their alcohol misuse must be asked to contribute and invited to participate in any Strategy Discussion/Meeting and attend relevant meetings.

If the concerns are in relation to an unborn child, the maternity services must be involved and invited to attend the Strategy Discussion/Meeting, the Initial Child Protection Conference and, where appropriate, the Core Group.