Published byAshton Nuce Modified over 8 years ago
UNTOLD DAMAGE Children’s accounts of living with harmful parental drinking
Collaborative research SHAAP/ ChildLine in Scotland to explore what children and young people tell CL about living with harmful parental drinking – and the concerns they express about how it impacts on their lives. Term harmful parental drinking does not invoke any public health definition of ‘hazardous drinking’. The term is use to reflect children’s perceptions of the harm their parent’s drinking is causing, based on what they tell CLS. Key aim: raise children’s voices about alcohol. We hear a great deal about yp’s drinking in the media and in society – and we’re not naïve – we know that increasing consumption is a problem, as it is across the whole population. However what we hear and what we have consistently heard from children over the years is not about their own drinking but how other people’s drinking – mainly their parent’s drinking – impacts on their lives. ___________________________________________________________________________ Our role is to make sure children’s voices are heard, and that we understand this problem as beginning with adult responsibility. 230 call records 2008 – 2009, from ChildLine caller database, where children gave their location as Scotland. More girls than boys, mainly ages 12 – 15, mostly living with parents. Gender of drinking parent. Small sample of enhanced case records February – March 2009 (fully written case notes where vols ‘primed’ to record more detail where caller mentioned alcohol) 4 volunteer focus groups and 1 supervisor group. IMPORTANCE OF SPEAKING TO VOLUNTEERS TO CAPTURE YOUNG PEOPLE’S EXPERIENCES. 39 ½ call records (from ChildLine caller database), because small sample suggested disproportionate number of cyp calling from Scotland
What children tell ChildLine about the impact of living with parental harmful drinking
Physical abuse Dad was drinking last night. He came home and started an argument and tried to strangle me. It’s happened before Dad batters her and hits mum about. Dad took mobile and raided her bedroom. Mum wears makeup to cover the bruises – she has started doing the same. Police don’t do anything about it; mum denied abuse when police were involved. Dad smokes weed and comes home from work drunk. (case records) Physical abuse was the most common MAIN problem that children called CL about when talking about harmful parental drinking (two fifths of the sample children). Violence clearly related to parent’s: yp talk about being hit when the parent is drunk/ just back from the pub etc. Very small numbers call when hit for the first time, most describe physical violence as an on-going aspect of their lives. Violence ranges from slaps to kicking and punching and using implements (law in Scotland is still not protecting children in this area). Some young people who talked about being hit by their parents also talked about domestic violence Research establishes clear link between domestic violence and physical abuse of children and young people and alcohol a known factor.
Sexual abuse I ran away an hour ago. Mum and dad had been drinking all night – had friends over drinking as well. I was sleeping in my room. Dad’s friend took off my pjs. I’m not sure what happened. My body is hurting down below. Much smaller number of young people talked about sexual abuse; at times by drinkign parent but also by non-drinking parent when drinking parent too drunk to protect child. A few callers described very high risk environment’s ion the home with parents and others drinking.
Neglect I had a long call [from] a girl who was exhausted….. she
was exclusively looking after her baby brother. The mother sleeps all day, goes out at night and she is left to look after the baby. She has to come home at lunchtime because the baby hasn’t been moved, changed, anything. This child was quite angry, she said ‘she doesn’t care as long as she is drunk’. (focus group) Small numbers of children also talked about clear neglect in a classic CP sense: not enough food, being left alone in the house whilst parents out drinking. However it was also clear throughout the study that many young people’s own needs were being neglected due to their having had to take on adult responsibilities and worries, such as caring for families.
Arguments and conflict
always shouting and swearing constantly picking on me thrown out of house after argument with mum step-dad very aggressive –screams and shouts they come home drunk and smash up the house he gets drunk and gets abusive YP describe homes riven with on-going arguments and conflict, with conflict often happening when parent has been drinking As well as conflict between callers, siblings and parent, YP describe conflict between parents – at times when one or both parent’s drunk – and also arguments between parents about one parents drinking behaviour. Several callers talked about home being wrecked or smashed up when parents drunk. NEXT SLIDE she starts shouting and crying she gets on at me all the time
Lack of parental attention and emotional care
I had [a call] - a boy – [he said] he had no relationship with his dad. ‘My dad doesn’t talk to me, I have to do everything on my own’. He felt constantly isolated. His mum had died a year ago… Half way through the call he started talking about his dad’s drinking saying his dad only talked to him when he had been drinking and it was ‘to shout at me and blame me for something I haven’t done’. (Focus Groups) Just as apparent as conflict with parents is a sense of isolation from parental interest and care. Some yp spoke about little or poor communication between themselves and their parents, some described parent’s not talking or listening to them; not taking an interest in their lives. Other children talked about feeling unloved or unsupported by drinking parents. Overall there was a sense form many yp that their parent was simply not there for them
Family separation and loss
Male caller worried about his mum and dad. Parent’s have recently split up. Mum is now drinking heavily in the evening. (Case records) One call I took from a 12 year old girl who said her dad was great in the morning but by the time she got home he had been drinking all day. She kept saying what a great dad he was when he wasn’t drinking and what a terrible time he’d had since her mum died. (Focus Groups) Family separation and loss was a very common theme in this study. YP mainly talked about ‘loss’ of a parent through divorce separation and bereavement. Yp also talked about loss such as loss of parentla health or job. It wasn’t clear from the records what role yp saw alcohol as having had in family separation, however what was clear in children’s accounts was that they understand events like parent’s splitting up or bereavement as being TRIGGERS to their parent drinking or escalating drinking. Volunteers described these young people as experiencing ‘double loss’,- where yp has had lost one parent through separation or bereavement and is loosing another through drink. Reading these case notes felt like reading a very clear message from young people about how we use alcohol in society and how this is damaging their lives. And that’s before we even start to think about children’s learning behaviour – and how we are teaching them to deal with traumatic life events – or rather inevitable life events.
Worry I’m worried about dad drinking too much. I think he might die
(case records) Caller worried about deteriorating mental health of her mother. Mother won’t seek help and family seem unable to do anything. Mum also alcoholic. She and her brothers see father at weekend. He’s aware of situation but doesn’t help.
Fear, anger, sadness Dad kicked her dog when he came home from the pub tonight. He's aggressive & threatening when he's been drinking Is constantly scared of her Dad. I don’t really feel that happy. The problem is with my dad and a little bit with my mum. They’ve split up and they don’t really get on that well. They fight a lot and dad’s got a problem with drinking.
Self harm and suicide Because of abuse feels like ending her own life. Abuse was by her dad. Lives with mum and dad – mum rarely there and always drunk (case records) [Caller] self harms – has been doing it for a year. She cuts her arms and wears long sleeves to cover it up. She does it when she’s angry; when her mother gets drunk. Her mother hits her when she gets drunk. She feels crap and her mother blames her
Problems with friends/ isolation and loneliness
If her dad was drunk when she came home from school she wouldn’t invite her friends because she was ashamed. And she couldn’t go out because she didn’t want to leave her dad with her wee sister because ‘sometimes [he] gets in bad moods when he’s been drinking’. (Focus Groups) In focus groups particularly, volunteers talked about how isolated and lonely children living with HPD can become, noting the extent to which practical realities like caring responsibilities can stop them going out, being with friends – but having people round can be a problem too because of shame or fear of people finding out what’s going on at home.
Difficulties at school, bullying
Mum and dad drink and fight; caller helps look after her gran sometimes but worries that if she’s not at home things will get out of hand. Gets headaches at school and has trouble concentrating (case records) Girl in class calling her names like 'fat whore'. Hurts herself whenever girl calls her names by making herself throw up. Could not speak to mum because she has drinking problem. Dad rarely around. (case records) YP mentioned all kinds of issues that affected their school lives: noise at night, disrupted sleep patterns, worry about home circumstances, caring responsibilities: all with obvious implications for yps ability to concentrate at school. Bullying was also an issue for some yp for all sorts of reasons: stigma, being scruffy etc. It’s particularly important to highlight the potential school difficulties for yp living in these circumstances. Not only because school is a place where yp can potentially find respite from problems as well as support, where staff recognise their needs, but also because education is a key resource for young people in later life.
getting out of the way and staying away self harm talking to someone
How children get by getting out of the way and staying away self harm talking to someone keeping secrets The clearest way of getting by for children in this study was staying out of the way of their drinking parent. Staying in your bedroom or getting out of the house to the streets or the park – or finding refuge in other people’s houses – family, friends even neighbours - for short or longer periods. Staying away however, is not an option for all children, some have caring responsibilities and can’t leave. Volunteers also felt that tensions and fractures in families affected by alcohol can mean less family support. As we’ve seen, self harm was also clearly used by some yp as a way of coping with what was going on in their lives – and CL work with yp to try and encourage them to find safer ways of getting relief. One obvious way is talking to people – and whilst all these yp had called CL to talk over what was happening – often with hopes of findings solutions – friends also emerged as important confidants for yp living with harmful parental drinking. Friends are children’s most common confidants across most problem categories. Problems shared amongst children but ‘hidden’ from adult world – especially statutory services. Talking to friends or in some cases family, is one way of getting by – but so is keeping secrets. (CHANGE SLIDE)
Keeping secrets I remember one call A girl whose mum was a professional person. . .a lawyer or doctor. They seemed a quite well off family and there was a real embarrassment about her mum (drinking) . And she was very clear that no-one should know. (focus groups) Already spoken about some of the reasons young people keep secrets – fear of breaking up family, fear of parent, fear of getting parent into trouble. However there is also shame and stigma. These children are not just talking to us about parents who are hazardous drinkers, living on the margins of society. Some children are talking about trying to maintain ‘normal’ family life – hiding what’s going on behind closed doors.
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