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Record numbers of children bereaved due to a parent’s drinking

Analysis of charity helpline data shows that requests for help from children bereaved due to a parent’s drinking have sharply risen from 29% in 2020 to 39% in 2023.

17/02/24

Record numbers of children bereaved due to a parent’s drinking

The news comes amidst recent ONS figures showing that alcohol-specific deaths have increased 27% since 2019. Female alcohol deaths have increased 37% over five years.

Annual calls to the National Children of Alcoholics (Nacoa) helpline climbed to over 33,000 in 2023. 55% of children of alcohol-dependent parents calling the Nacoa helpline describe facing serious mental distress through anxiety (60%), stress (51%), and depression (41%). More than a quarter (26%) of callers experienced abuse, including emotional, physical and sexual abuse and neglect.

“It’s been so hard to watch my niece and her two children go through this over the years – even harder to watch them walk behind their dad’s coffin last week,” one helpline caller said.

MPs and charities have now joined forces to plead with the government to reinstate the abandoned government strategy for children of alcohol-dependent parents

The Alcohol Families Alliance and the Chairs of the major alcohol APPGs have written a joint letter to Health Minister Andrea Leadsom calling on her to reinstate these children after all dedicated support was cut in 2021.

Despite the government investing £267 million into drug and alcohol treatment services, no funds were ring-fenced for dedicated services for children and families. Right now, there is no direct plan in place to support those experiencing this mental distress and abuse.

The news comes as part of the annual calendar event to raise awareness for the 2.6 million children in the UK affected by a parent’s drinking, Children of Alcoholics (COA) Week 2024, which ran from 11 until today (17 February 2024).

This year’s COA Week theme is ‘breaking the silence’, which promotes trying to find a trusted person to speak to about the things you are going through.

The charity says that without support, some of the most vulnerable children you can imagine in the United Kingdom will be much more likely to develop addictions themselves, as well as struggle in school, be in trouble with police, develop an eating disorder, or consider suicide.

“News of huge increase of parental alcohol deaths is devastating to hear for children’s charities like us, who witness the daily impacts of parental addiction on children,” Hilary Henriques MBE, Chief Executive of Nacoa UK said.

“COA Week helps us to remember that alcohol problems affect the whole family. Behind these statistics are mothers and fathers whose children will have been living with the chaos of someone else’s drinking. But with greater awareness and support, we will help children to find healthy ways to cope and break the cycle of addiction.”

Professor Ian Gilmore, Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance, said systematic change is needed to protect children and their families from alcohol harm.

“The government must create a new alcohol strategy to tackle alcohol harm and include specific measures to support families and protect children.”

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