Supporting children affected by parental alcohol misuse: a toolkit

 Introduction to the toolkit

This section covers:-

  • What a toolkit is
  • An explanation of who the toolkit has been designed for and what professionals will need to make use of it
  • The principles and premises underlying the development of the toolkit
  • An explanation of how the materials were developed
  • How to use this toolkit
  • Links to each of the individual toolkits
  • Acknowledgements

What the toolkit is
The toolkit is a web-based collection of information and profession-specific guidance to support professionals working with children whose parents misuse alcohol.

Who it’s for and what professionals will need to make use of it
This toolkit, funded by the Department of Health, is designed in direct response to the needs and issues faced by professionals in touch with children. The toolkit provides all professionals with:-

  • Evidence of need
  • Research findings about what helps children cope
  • Specific information about what can be done within the roles and remits of specific professional groups in social work, in primary care, in education and by alcohol specialists
  • General information about alcohol misuse
  • Signposting to other sources of information and support

It is hoped that this will go some way to increasing the confidence of professionals in applying their own skills and abilities in support of children who live with parents who drink too much.

The reality is that we often have a contradictory social relationship with alcohol. Culturally, for most groups in England and Wales, drinking is an accepted part of life and plays a key role in special family events. Occasional over-indulgence is also commonplace. Drinking problems are not rare and should be expected in a percentage of the overall population. Dealing (productively) with alcohol-related issues should be an everyday part of working life for many professional groups.

However, drinking problems are highly stigmatised by the public at large. Few professionals have any specific training on this issue and a common misconception is that little can be done to help someone with an alcohol problem. Additionally, despite the fact that large numbers of parents who misuse alcohol are not alcohol dependent, it is often child protection concerns, rather than child support which dominate.

This toolkit has therefore been developed with the following underlying premises.

  • Children can be supported and helped regardless of changes in the drinking behaviour of parents.
  • Professionals working with children have a general duty for the care and welfare of children within their specific roles and remit and, as this is a common problem, they need to feel comfortable with the issues concerned and confident of what they can do.
  • Professionals in touch with children can do an enormous amount to ensure factors known to promote resilience to long term harm are put in place for any particular child.
  • The skills and abilities required to do this are those that most professional groups working with children already have and use on a day-to-day basis.

How the materials were developed
We spoke with professionals (health visitors, general practitioners, practice nurses, school nurses, teachers and social workers) to get first hand information about how they viewed the problem and, most importantly, to understand the context within which different professionals work and the scope and remit of their various roles. We did this in order to identify how and when opportunities for supporting children on this issue might arise. Following on from this we asked individuals in each profession what they would find helpful in making use of these opportunities. For each professional group a ‘design brief’ was drawn up for wider consultation and comment. These dictated the contents of the toolkit and the way material has been organised.

One issue stood out from the others – the tendency for all professionals to feel that referral to social services would most often, if not always, be necessary if parental alcohol misuse came to their attention. To deal with this matter and provide guidance that could be relied upon, we established an expert group to advise on this issue. The result is the guidance on Addressing child protection.

Alcohol Concern worked in partnership with Bath University and with the Royal College of Nursing, the National Union of Teachers, the Community Practitioners and Health Visitors Association, and the Association of Directors of Social Services to ensure materials were suitable and appropriate to the various professional groups for whom they are intended. The materials have been discussed at a number of national seminars and conferences, and approved by these organisations.

How to use this toolkit
What most people want is information and guidance specific to the particular situations in which they work and which fit with their role and remit in working with children. Specific toolkits for the following professional groups are provided:-

  • Teachers
  • School nurses
  • Practice nurses and general practitioners
  • Health visitors
  • Children and families social workers
  • Alcohol workers

All the materials have been designed as a web site, allowing the user to go straight to sections of most interest and use links in each section to look up particular topics referred to. This might tap into information in the other professional specific toolkits, into base material common to all the professional groups covered and compiled for their use, to specialist alcohol-related materials and information or, finally, to other sources of information and support available outside the remit of this project.

Although we state clearly that it is the children we are concerned about, regardless of the drinking behaviour of the parents, information about alcohol misuse generally, assessing alcohol problems and advising on problem drinking has been included because:-

  • Professional groups interviewed in the development of the toolkit wanted information and advice on this topic
  • Opportunities exist for some professional groups to also work with parents on this issue
  • In some cases (working with very young children for example) affecting the behaviour of the parents is the only thing that can be done to improve things for the child. Although the concern here should be on parenting, again opportunities exist to provide information and support regarding reducing alcohol consumption and this will sometimes be a prerequisite, depending on the degree of problem experienced by the parent.

Before getting started on the toolkit, you might want to have a look at What children say about their parents’ drinking and its effect on them.

To get going on the toolkits just click on one of these links:-

Toolkit for teachers
Toolkit for school nurses
Toolkit for practice nurses and general practitioners
Toolkit for health visitors
Toolkit for children and families social workers
Toolkit for alcohol workers

Acknowledgements and Authorship

  • Susan Baker, Consultant for Alcohol Concern is the major author of this toolkit
  • Thanks to ChildLine for use of their materials


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