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Parents’ alcohol abuse damaging the lives of 700,000 teenagers

The Children’s Society calls on government to address the £2bn funding gap for local children’s services

Parents' alcohol abuse is damaging the lives of an estimated 700,000 teenagers across the UK, according to new research from The Children's Society.

For three in five (59 per cent) of these teenagers, the same parent is also suffering from depression or anxiety, the charity's survey of 3,000 families with children aged 10-17 found. Two in five (39 per cent) have lived with domestic violence and more than one in four (29 per cent) have been homeless in the last five years.

The Children's Society's evidence reveals the seriousness and complexity of the problems facing millions of the UK's teenagers. Figures from the charity also show that more than 1.6 million teenagers have a parent with depression or anxiety and 1.7 million teenagers are living in homes struggling with problem debt.

The pressures on teenagers from homes where alcohol or drugs are being misused, can lead to them developing mental health problems, running away from home or being excluded from school, The Children's Society warns.

The Children's Society Chief Executive Matthew Reed said:

"Millions of teenagers in the UK are suffering in silence with problems that would floor an adult. The hundreds of thousands of children whose parent has a drinking problem are sadly just the tip of the iceberg of children in desperate need of support. At a time when demand for council children's services is rising, severe funding cuts from central government are leaving more and more to deal with these huge problems alone.

"Specialist services working with families to combat problem drinking, support for teenagers whose parent has mental ill health, or safe spaces for them to go when pressures at home mount, are becoming ever harder to find. Without support at an early stage as problems emerge, these families can quickly reach crisis point and the risks for the children involved grow."

The analysis demonstrates that the problems teenagers face are rarely standalone, but interwoven with other serious issues. Almost a quarter (23 per cent) of teenagers from homes plagued by alcohol misuse were also taking on caring responsibilities at home, likely to include domestic chores, taking care of siblings or nursing parents suffering from withdrawal. Adult mental health problems (59 per cent) and longstanding illness or disability (44 per cent) were also commonplace in these homes, indicating that adults may be self-medicating with alcohol to cope with these and other stressors in the family.

The Children's Society argues that local services are crucial to make sure children in families affected by alcohol misuse are identified and that they are kept safe and well, but as cuts to children's services bite, the early intervention services that could identify struggling young people and provide targeted support have shrunk across the UK. The Children's Society is calling on the government to urgently address the £2bn funding gap for local council children's services.

In February 2017 the All Party Parliamentary Group on Children of Alcoholics launched a manifesto calling for the government to create a national strategy to "break the cycle of this terrible disease" and properly to fund local support for children of alcoholics.