Children are the future of our world. We all hope children experience happy and healthy childhoods and grow up to achieve their fullest potential. But growing up in a household with alcohol problems harms the health and well-being of children and hinders their development.
For instance, recent research published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs found that children from households with heavy alcohol use have a much higher risk of experiencing a range of negative outcomes:
- Mental health disorders in childhood and/or adolescence,
- Infant/child mortality,
- Being convicted of a crime later on in life,
- Lower academic achievement,
- Experiencing abuse and/or neglect,
- Having an out-of-home placement (e.g., foster care), and
- Having an elevated risk for hospitalizations for physical illness and injury.
Swedish children growing up in alcohol-affected households
In Sweden thousands of children are affected. About one in five children grow up in a household with at least one parent with an alcohol problem.
A new report by BRIS titled “Was It My Responsibility?“, shows both the short and long-term consequences for children who grow up in households with alcohol problems. In households with alcohol problems the risk for reduced parenting ability is higher. As a result children carry a heavier burden than they should in their household.
BRIS – the letters stand for ‘Barnens rätt i samhället’, meaning children’s rights in society – is one of Sweden’s leading child rights organizations. BRIS fights for a better society for children every day.
The consequences of being in a household with alcohol problems continue even after the adult with the problem stops using alcohol or loses contact with the household. Adding to the problem is the fact that not many children in households with alcohol problems receive the support they need.
Children tell Bris that they carry a large load at home, and that they take on both a practical and an emotional responsibility in place of the parent,” said Magnus Jägerskog, Secretary General of Bris [Translated from Swedish], as per their website.
Many describe grief and anger over what they experience as betrayal by parents. Children wonder why they are not worthy of feeling loved and cared for. It becomes clear in children’s conversations with Bris that relationships with parents are affected for the rest of their lives.”
Magnus Jägerskog, Secretary General, BRIS
Movendi International member organization Junis revealed in their 2020 municipality report that 320,000 children are estimated to grow up in a household with alcohol problems.
- That is 15% of all children in Sweden.
- Out of the municipalities who responded to Junis’ survey, 96% claim they offered support to children who grow up in a household with substance use problems.
- Nevertheless, only 1% or 3,469 children have actually participated in support activities provided by the municipal authorities.
Many children feel very lonely and left to cope with everyday life by themselves, and wonder how other adults around can avoid seeing and acting,” says Mr Jägerskog.
It is difficult for both children and adults to know where the line goes and when someone [consumes] too much [alcohol], but it is our responsibility as adults to acquire knowledge and create conditions for more children to be able to tell and seek support”
Magnus Jägerskog, Secretary General, BRIS
Solutions to protect the rights of children of households with alcohol problems
In the new report BRIS presents five proposals for how more children living in households with alcohol problems can be given support:
- Increased knowledge about the situation of children of parents with an alcohol problem.
- As a child, having to take on a great deal of emotional responsibility in the family is in itself a form of lack of care and neglect.
- To see the child’s entire life situation – here and in the long term.
- The consequences for the child’s life situation do not end automatically when the adult stops using alcohol.
- To create conditions for children to ask for and seek support.
- Children need knowledge of their rights, and a permissive environment to be able to talk about their situation.
- Increased and more equal access to support for children.
- More forms of support need to be developed – in collaboration with affected children.
- A new approach to prevention.
- Early inclusive support that identifies needs and provides help to adults at risk for developing alcohol use problems.
One such solution was recently launched by Junis.
In order to increase the support provided to vulnerable children Junis launched a brand new online knowledge portal called “Adults who know,” on October 1, this year. The new knowledge portal primarily targets adults who work with children in different contexts: School, pre-school, leisure time, and even professionals of the Social Services. However, it is not limited to these groups and has useful information for anyone who wants to know more about the problem or offer help.