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Chaos and conflict – mitigating the impact of alcohol dependency on families

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Care and support, Safeguarding

I am very pleased to welcome to the blog my colleague and counterpart based at the Department for Education, the Chief Social Worker for Children and Families, Isabelle Trowler.

Although based in separate departments we work together to make social work practice the best it can be and support social workers to make a real difference to the lives of children, adults and families with whom they work. We continue to promote social work in England as a rewarding career and valued profession that delivers positive change for everyone.

The recent announcement of additional funding and support for the children of alcohol dependent parents reminds us of our shared endeavour - to guide, protect and support people at all stages of life. After all, if a child needs support, the chances are the adults in their lives do too...

Isabelle Trowler: 'Whilst children can feel angry with their parents, very often they feel deeply stressed and worry enormously about their safety and health.'

Isabelle: Over many years, as a social worker, both as a practitioner and senior leader of services, I have seen the devastation that can happen when alcohol gets a grip on family life.

It is true to say, the effects can be small, and many families live behind closed doors managing this aspect of their lives, without anyone even knowing there is a problem.

Often though, alcohol addiction wreaks havoc becoming a major part of how families function, sometimes across generations. When parents become consumed with their need to drink, very often to cope with their own troubled history or trauma, children start to suffer significantly as a consequence.

Chaos and conflict dominate; basic routines of life like having meals, getting to school and having enough sleep disappear. Sometimes aggression and violence are common features of everyday life. Relationships become fractured, jobs are lost and so the pressures of having no money, and no way out, build. Children can be scared, feel vulnerable and overwhelmed.

I have witnessed young people turn to drink themselves, seen as an inevitable prop to just get through each day and the thought of the future. Whilst children can feel angry with their parents, very often they feel deeply stressed and worry enormously about their safety and health.

Some children become carers, as they do their best to look after the family themselves. Parents feel shame and powerlessness: a situation from which they can see no way out. Mostly, the last thing a child and his or her parents want is for the family to fall apart and for the children to live elsewhere; but sometimes, children yearn desperately for something to change.

There is no better testimony than “Hackney Child” written by Jenny Molloy, who recounts the story of her childhood in a household consumed by only one thing: alcohol. Her nightmare ended when she took herself and her siblings to the police station to say they could no longer live at home.

So what can we do? How can we stop things getting this far? The £6 million joint funding announced by the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Work and Pensions is a very welcome start.

Local authorities will have the opportunity to bid for £4.5 million in innovation funding to develop plans to improve outcomes for children with parents who are struggling with alcohol addiction.

Nothing should be off the table in terms of new ideas as long as the focus is on supporting children and families to break from the past and discover a different future together.

Isabelle Trowler is the Chief Social Worker for Children and Families, based at the Department for Education

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