Children of Alcoholics

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:20 am on 24th November 2015.

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Photo of Edward Timpson Edward Timpson Minister of State (Education) 11:20 am, 24th November 2015

That is hugely important. It is not a surprise to me that one of the top three points that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill wanted me to address was the fact that it is the professionals who interact with children daily who are best placed to try to spot the signs and act on them sooner rather than later. In that way, children who have nowhere else to turn will receive timely and sympathetic support, backed by the knowledge of that professional about what works and how they can help the child and their family to turn the corner—knowledge that has so often been lacking in the past.

I am conscious that I have only five minutes in which to address all the right hon. Gentleman’s extremely well-made points. We must base any response on the premise that every child has a right to grow up in a safe and secure environment. Parents play a crucial role in how their children develop and behave. Of course, parents should act as role models for their children, but we recognise that parental alcohol dependency is a disease that affects many parents. It can limit their parenting capacity, which can have serious consequences for their children.

Rather than read out the response that a Government Minister might normally give to this sort of debate, I shall discuss how my own experience reflects what the right hon. Gentleman said and why I, too, am determined to join him in trying to do more and to do right by the children who still have to live in such circumstances.

I grew up in a family who fostered many children, of whom a large proportion, including one of my adopted brothers, came from a home in which alcohol misuse had been a regular feature. We cannot underestimate the lifelong impact on such a child, who, whether for a short time or a much longer period of their childhood, has been trapped in a cycle. They learn behaviour that they find difficult to avoid later in life, which creates that cycle between generations, and they often witness violence and conflict and feel a sense of isolation. To try to unravel all that is a huge task for anyone. If we superimpose on to that the scale of the problem, irrespective of the progress that has been made on the public health agenda and reducing alcohol dependency, we will see that huge problems further down the line are being stored up for future generations.

In both the private and public cases I dealt with in the family courts, alcohol was often a feature; as Caroline Flint rightly said, it was sometimes a feature in families of whom the overriding public impression was that alcohol would not be at the heart of their problems. On the surface, these are functional families, but underneath there are serious issues that need to be addressed. To that end, notwithstanding that this is a complex issue that transcends the work of many Departments, the Government have a role, because there is commonality: a shared ambition to ensure that no child should be left behind in our determined efforts to try to tackle the problem.

I will look very carefully at the 10 points raised by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill and undertake to talk to ministerial colleagues, particularly in the Department of Health, about how we raise public awareness of parental alcohol dependency in a similar way to how we have raised awareness on smoking. I am happy to meet the right hon. Gentleman, along with representatives from many of the excellent organisations that have come together to help him in both a personal and professional capacity to prepare for this debate, so that we can pull together our collective understanding of what is being done and where we continue to fall short.

Much of the work that we are doing on the social work reform agenda, and on how we equip teachers and other educational staff to understand the presentation of children from a family in which alcoholism is a problem, is going to be key to unlocking this taboo that sometimes remains. If we are honest, we all know of someone in our own family or immediate circle of friends, or certainly in our social network, for whom this is a feature in their lives.

We should not pretend that there is an easy way of trying to make changes happen, but, on the back of the right hon. Gentleman’s public push to galvanise the work already being done in many places around the country, we have a real opportunity to ensure that responses are more consistent and that we start to reduce some of the anomalies we see in different local authorities. As my hon. Friend Dr Poulter said, there should be a much more joined up approach so that families who feel unsupported and children who feel lonely no longer have that as a central feature of their lives. We must use some of the innovation out there to ensure that the work we do in future really does make a difference.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered support for children of alcoholics.