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Misuse Of Drugs And Alcohol: Effect on Children

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Published: Mon, 01 May 2017

This research proposal concerns the investigation and analysis of the impact of parental misuse of alcohol on children. The perceptions of policy makers and members of society in the UK have for many years acknowledged the negative consequences of excessive alcohol consumption on health, behaviour and public safety. Such perceptions have in turn resulted in curbs on sale of alcohol to young people and to restrictions on driving under its influence. Social workers along with professionals in areas like health, medicine and law and order are also working towards reducing domestic violence and disruption on account of alcohol misuse (Bancroft, et al, 2005, p 47).

The impact of parental alcohol misuse on children has however been largely ignored, even in the midst of growing concern about increasing alcohol consumption; especially amongst young people (Murray, 2005, p 7). Recent reports highlight that children numbering more than 2.6 million in the UK live with dangerous drinkers, even as more than 8 million children are adversely affected by alcohol misuse of family members. Families where parents misuse alcohol are by and large characterised by poorer functioning. Such families are perceived to lack cohesion, ritual and routines; they have (a) lesser levels of verbal and physical expression, display of positive feelings, and caring and warmth, and (b) greater degrees of unresolved conflict (Murray, 2005, p 9).

Misuse of alcohol by parents is seen to be causal in (a) adverse physiological and physical outcomes for children and (b) fostering of environments that are unfit for children, both for development and for living. Such environments are marked by numerous incidences of neglect and direct or indirect violence (Harwin & Forrester, 2002, p 84). There is a great deal of evidence to show that parental alcohol misuse can harm children in diverse ways and lead to behavioural difficulties in early and later life. Children exposed to domestic conditions of parental alcohol misuse are less likely to do well in the classroom and appear to be more prone to mental health problems in later life (Harwin & Forrester, 2002, p 85).

Evidence also suggests that a huge majority of alcohol dependent people in the UK had alcohol misusers for parents and work towards perpetuating the cycle for future generations (Kroll & Taylor, 2003, p 25). There is also disturbing evidence to reveal that parental misuse of alcohol is significantly associated with deaths and serious abuse. Studies of adults, who are homeless, imprisoned or have substance misuse problems show significant association of such people with parents who misuse alcohol (Kroll & Taylor, 2003, p 27).

1.2. Aims and Objectives

The proposed research study aims to study the impact of parental misuse of alcohol in detail, with specific regard its relevance for social work theory and practice. The objectives of the dissertation are as under:

To investigate the short and long term consequences of parental alcohol misuse on children?

To investigate the relevance of the issue in current social work theory and practice?

To assess the rationale, validity and effectiveness of current social work approaches in improving the situation, with regard to both results and costs

To provide recommendations on improving policy and practice approaches towards improving outcomes for children of parents with alcohol misuse problems.

2. Literature Review

2.1. Short and Long Term Consequences of Parental Alcohol Misuse on Children

Research reveals that children of parents who misuse alcohol consumption can suffer from a variety of physical, psychological and behavioural problems with short and long term outcomes. As alcohol problems differ in character, severity and time period, their impact upon children also varies (Murray, 2005, p 4). It is however clear from national and international studies that the children of families in which one or both parents engage in alcohol abuse have greater problems than others. Seven important features of the family lives of these children, namely (1) roles, (2) rituals, (3) routines, (4) social life, (5) finances, (6) communication, and (7) conflict could be adversely affected (Murray, 2005, p 5).

Whilst parents with alcohol abuse problems cannot certainly be equated with bad or uncaring parents, research does suggest that alcohol problems adversely affect parenting quality. Excessive drinking can make individuals emotionally unavailable, unpredictable and inconsistent and result in passive, neglectful or even harsh parenting (Grekin, et al, 2005, p 15). With children learning from their parents about who they are, particularly in relation to others, children of parents who engage in alcohol abuse are likely to get ambiguous and inconsistent information, mainly because of the unpredictability on the behaviour and responses of such parents (Grekin, et al, 2005, p 18).

Whilst inconsistency occurs mainly on account of the unpredictable way in which such parents behave, such impulsiveness and irresponsibility in their behaviour results in the imposition of responsibilities on children that are excessive and beyond their years, which in turn affects their education, their family life and their relationships with their peers (Murray, 2005, p 9). Such children also face high risks of social exclusion because of their urge to conceal their parental drinking from their friends. Such children sometimes carers of their parents, especially in circumstances of domestic violence and can ally with the drinking parent or against him or her. Psychologists and behavioural specialists state that children of problem drinkers could fail to internalise their feelings of worth and trust and often learn not to trust, feel or talk. They may also be worried about the abilities of their parents to safeguard them and thus find it difficult to trust others (Murray, 2005, p 9).

Children of parents with alcohol problems are at significantly greater risk of witnessing and experiencing verbal, physical, and sexual abuse, as well as neglect. Excessive alcohol consumption plays a major role in 25 to 33 % of known child abuse cases (Kroll & Taylor, 2003, p 29). Children of problem drinkers are also extremely likely to blame themselves for the difficulties experienced by their families in naïve attempts to make their environment become better able in supporting them. Such children are also likely to carry their experiences of childhood into adulthood. Unborn children of mothers engaged in alcohol abuse during pregnancy can develop Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), involving a variety of mental and physical health problems (Kroll & Taylor, 2003, p 34).

2.2. Resilience among Children of People with Alcohol Consumption Problems

Whilst many of the problems described above place significant demands on social workers, especially when they continue through generations, it is also true that some children of parents with drinking problems do not seem to face as many difficulties as others. They appear to have greater resilience (Murray, 2005, p 5). Contemporary research reveals that certain protective processes and factors can reduce the adverse effect of parental alcohol difficulties on children, in the short as well as the long term. Such protective factors include high degrees of confidence and self esteem, self efficacy, ability to handle change, good problem solving skills, strong and positive family functioning, close and positive bonding with one or more caring adults, and good support networks beyond the family (Murray, 2005, p 7). Protective processes on the other hand include planning on behalf of children to make their lives less disruptive by (a) reduction of the impact of risks by altering the exposure of children to such risks, and (b) development and maintenance of self efficacy and self-esteem and self efficacy, and (c) improving the care provided by parents (Murray, 2005, p 7).

2.3. Social Work Policy and Practice for Children of Parents with Alcohol Related Problems

The national policy for dealing with adults with alcohol related problems is fragmented and approaches the issue from different angles. The main components of the government’s national policy towards containment of alcohol misuse are as under (Galvani, 2006, p 3-7):

The National Alcohol Harm Reduction strategy for England focused upon the requirement for services in the area of alcohol and domestic abuse to function together to address the issue.

The guidance document for the delivery of alcohol strategy acknowledges the requirement for assessment of consequences of alcohol problems on children.

The guidance document on alcohol misuse intervention focuses on the ways in which PCTs, along with local authorities, criminal justice agencies and voluntary agencies should understand and implement their roles in dealing with alcohol related crimes.

The Drug and Alcohol National Occupational Standards appreciates the requirement for workers to be able to safeguard and reduce the risk of abuse, both by and to their clients.

The vision for services for children and young people who are affected by domestic violence guides commissioners on (a) the important aspects of support for children and young people experiencing domestic abuse, (b) assessment of gaps in local services, and (c) their priorities for action.

The Children Act 1989 and its subsequent amendments incorporates the witnessing or hearing of bad treatment of children by other persons to be included in parameters for assessment of harm.

The National Service Framework for children, young people and maternity services focuses upon relationship conflict and alcohol and drug use as important areas where parents could require early intervention as well as multi-agency support.

The 2009 Task Force Report in response to Lord Laming’s Report states that many children continue to be at risk of harm on from the people they should otherwise be rely on for care and love and that the government is responsible for doing everything possible to safeguard such vulnerable children (HM Government, 2009, p 29). The 2011 Munro Report on child protection states the need for abandoning the old standardised and bureaucratic approach to child protection and customising services on the basis of the experiences and needs of children Monroe, 2010, p 1).

The recently elected coalition government is in the process of assessing and reshaping national policy towards social work and some refocus of attention of policy makers on the consequences of impact of parental alcohol misuse on children is expected.

2.4. Research Questions

The aims and objectives of the proposed research, along with the information obtained from a brief review of literature have resulted in the formulation of the following research questions.

Research Question 1: What are the short and long term consequences of parental misuse of alcohol on children?

Research Question 2: How is current social work policy and practice dealing with this problem?

Research Question 3: What is the rationale of existing policies and practices for improving the lives of children threatened by excessive parental consumption of alcohol?

Research Question 4: What is the validity of such policies and practices and what is the extent of their effectiveness?

Research Question 5: How can current policies and practices be improved for bettering the life outcomes of children at risk from parents who engage in excessive alcohol consumption?

3. Research Method

3.1. Choice of Research Method

Social research is by and large conducted with the use of positivist and interpretivist epistemologies, which in turn largely call for the respective use of quantitative and qualitative methods of research (Bryman, 2004, p 43).

With the issue under investigation being extremely complex and multifaceted, the use of quantitative methods is hardly likely to yield any substantial or new results. Quantitative surveys on the issue have already revealed the various problems that can stem from excessive alcohol consumption by parents on their children. The use of interpretivist methodology and qualitative research techniques should help in the investigation and analysis of the subject under issue.

It is proposed to obtain relevant information on the subject from appropriate primary and secondary sources, whilst information from secondary sources will be obtained from the substantial amount of information and research findings on the subject that is publicly available. The researcher proposes to obtain primary information through the conduct of detailed one-to-one interviews with three social workers who have been closely involved in providing services to the families and children of people suffering from alcohol misuse problems. The interviews will be conducted carefully with the use of a range of open and close ended questions and will hopefully lead to interesting and relevant information.

3.2. Ethics

The researcher will take all measures to follow appropriate ethical codes of conduct, with regard to informed consent, confidentiality, absence of coercion, and freedom to answer or not to answer questions. Efforts will be made to ensure that the research is totally original and devoid of any form of plagiarism (Creswell & Clark, 2006, p 69).


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