What children need when they are living with parental substance use

What children need when they are living with parental substance use

What children need when they are living with parental substance use

My specialism is working with individuals, children and families affected by drug and alcohol use. I have been in this field since 2005 and have directly supported, designed and delivered services to help families to recover from substance use. I thought I would share my thoughts on what children need from grown ups when they are living in this situation.

  1. At least one trusted adult outside the family home that they can speak to – it can be so easy for families to think that closing ranks and keeping problems within the family is the safest way to deal with things. How many times have you spoken to people outside your family about familial issues? Ask yourself, Why? Because our family members are either part of the issues or they are simply too connected. Children need someone to know about the situation at home. School as an absolute minimum. Just so they have somewhere to go where they can talk about how they feel.
  2. For families not to diagnose the level of a problem with drugs or alcohol themselves Here’s my advice- most families are not equipped to make a judgement on what is safe and what is not. Please don;t dwell on how much of a problem someone has. Whether or not they are an ‘addict’ does not matter. It may have crossed your mind as a grown up that something isn’t right, that someone is drinking or taking too many drugs and is incapable of caring properly for themselves, let alone a child. If a child has been left alone whilst a parent or carer has gone out, it’s time to take action. Speak to the adult about your issues. Get advice, ring your local drug and alcohol service, children’s services or NSPCC. It does not matter if someone is an ‘addict’ and I do not believe someone has to hit ‘rock bottom’. If a substance is causing problems for them, they may need some help. They may be a binge drinker or a daily drinker. Every night from 5pm or every day from getting up. This can range from a direct conversation with a friend to drug and alcohol treatment. The child also needs their own help. Don’t leave them out of the process.
  3. Age appropriate explanations of drugs and alcohol and how they affect people – It is very important to understand that children need an explanation of what alcohol and drugs are and how some people can have problems. Calling substances ‘medicine’ is not appropriate. They need to feel like they are not alone in their situation.
  4. For professionals and families to listen, hear and take action on what they share so that they are truly heard – imagine what a relief it is when you share something that has been worrying you? Now imagine you are a child. Imagine that you have told a grown up and it takes a month to hear anything back. Imagine that you never hear anything and your parents find out you have told someone outside the family home. Imagine that a social worker came to see you and then nothing really happened. Imagine that your whole family know what’s going on, but nobody does anything about it. It doesn’t feel very nice does it? We need to take action. Always. And if someone doesn’t get back to you about that action. Follow it up.
  5. For families not to ask them to cover up what is going on in the family home – Just don’t do it. This causes so much more trauma for children than the substance use in itself. Once professionals get involved, families can prime children to say this and not say that. Allowing them to say what they need to means they can deal with their own thoughts and feelings. Plus adults get the help they need too.
  6. For professionals to understand the child’s change cycle- Just because an adult is in recovery, does not mean that things change for them. It brings a whole new (or much repeated) journey into recovery, This journey is often filled with anxiety, worry or a whole new set of parental boundaries or even affection implemented by their parent in recovery. So often, if cases are at Child Protection (have a social worker), once a parent has been in recovery for quite a short amount of time, the case gets closed. This means the family can be on their own again navigating this new path together. It can be a tricky one! Please keep professionals involved with the family to help them in their recovery journey.
  7. Not to be told they are naughty! Yes- behaviour will be impacted upon for many reasons. Please do not label them as being ‘naughty’/ I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this happen, even when we know about the situation they are living in.
  8. For -grown-ups to be trauma aware understand, consider and ask how they feel, what they want and how they wish to be worked with or helped.

To Close

I could write all day about this.

What I want to close with is that parents who use substances are NOT BAD PARENTS. People use substances often because of trauma they have experienced themselves or in times of stress and chaos. Every person within the family needs help and support. Children need protective factors in place when they are living in this situation.

A specialist service delivering work with families on parental substance use may be available in your area. This is the ideal service to support children and families.

If anyone needs any advice or support my inboxes are open this week.

Take care,

 

Victoria

Drinking around children

Drinking around children

I’m a total and utter party pooper when it comes to drinking around children. A bit of an outcast in terms of my opinion on the subject. It’s what our mums and dads always did and it didn’t do us any harm right? Wrong! Before I begin, I don’t want to come across as patronising. Those who know me know I love partying with the best of them. I enjoy drinking to enhance a night out or a Saturday night in. I do not enjoy hangxiety or alcohol-induced-depression one little bit. As a drug and alcohol practitioner, I do not always practise what I preach. But, that’s another story for another day (maybe).  

Who are we talking about?

  I’ve specialised in familial substance misuse for the majority of my career (since 2005). I’ve supported hundreds of families into recovery as well as some who have not managed it. I’ve met people who are desperate to change in order to prevent their children being removed from their care. I’ve met families where I’ve been involved in decision making about the need to remove children from their care. I don’t want to focus on talking about families who are subject to child protection plans or in the ‘safeguarding arena’. I’m talking about professional people who have enough disposable income to pick up the phone and text a dealer or pop out and or give crate man/woman a call (do they still exist?!) to drop off some more booze while their mates are round and the kids are upstairs. When my husband and I had our daughter, we made a decision to have a child focused parenting style. Our lives changed to adapt to her needs. Other parents might have a parent focused style where the baby, still very much loved, slots into the lives of the parents and things carry on as before. There is nothing wrong with either of these approaches. We stopped drinking around our children and have drinking curfews so that we have a few drinks after the children have gone to bed (mostly!) We made this decision because of the work I do and for other reasons.  

My memories

  I remember my parents (sorry dad) going out drinking and friends coming back to the house. I remember them coming in my room stinking of booze and garlic (bleugh), hammered. I remember my mum screaming at my dad because he got drunk the night before a holiday. I remember the times they were drunk and it was totally cringe. I remember being at family parties where all the grown-ups were acting weird. I remember being at friends’ houses where other people’s parents were drunk, with their adult friends around when I was 13. Not great memories. I’m sure they remember when I was drunk too but we aren’t talking about that today either! Am I traumatised by these memories? Not really, but I didn’t particularly like it and I didn’t feel particularly safe. We remember these things because our memories are connected to our emotions. Fear, embarrassment, shame, worry (and feelings of pleasure and happiness too- it’s not all doom and gloom!). Do you remember your parents drinking? Or maybe they’re still at it!  

Like Sugar for Adults

  A report was published in 2017, Like Sugar for Adults. It found that it isn’t just dependent drinkers or alcoholics that have an impact on children. Parents don’t have to be wasted for children to understand that there is a difference in their behaviour. They experience negative feelings but also have an understanding that their parents have less boundaries and control over their children when they have had a drink, so can get away with more. It also found that:

  • 29% of parents reported having been drunk in front of their child.
  • 51% of parents reported having been tipsy in front of their child.
  • 29% of parents thought it was ok to get drunk in front their child as long as it did not happen regularly.
  • If a child had seen their parent tipsy or drunk, they were less likely to consider the way their parent drinks alcohol as providing a positive role model for them – regardless of how much their parent usually drank.

The more parents drank, the more likely children were to experience a range of harms, beginning from relatively low levels of drinking. As a result of their parent’s drinking:

  • 18% of children had felt embarrassed.
  • 11% of children had felt worried.
  • 7% of children said their parents had argued with them more than usual.
  • 8% of children said their parents had been more unpredictable.
  • 12% of children said their parents had paid them less attention.
  • 15% of children said their bedtime routine had been disrupted; either by being put to bed earlier or later than usual.

 

Safeguarding

  Sorry to go on, but, having worked in the safeguarding children arena, there is also a risk of the following when adults drink and take drugs; *Child Sexual Exploitation *Neglect *Sexual abuse *Witnessing violence (domestic or relatives scrapping at the family wedding) *Emotional abuse *Impact on routines and boundaries *Developing an unhealthy attitude to alcohol (normalising or fear)  

Considerations

  Without riddling you with guilt or turning you into a safeguarding professional over-protective freak (if you know, you know), here are some questions to ask yourself if you’re getting ready for some recreational alcohol or drug use tonight:

  1. Are my children safe?
  2. Are they being cared for while we get drink/take drugs?
  3. Have they got access to the alcohol or drugs?
  4. Are we able to care for them if they wake in the night?
  5. Is there a responsible adult around to respond to their needs if the other adults are under the influence?
  6. Are there other adults around who are drinking and using drugs? How much do we know about them?
  7. Is the conversation appropriate for children?
  8. Do we know what the children are doing?
  9. What will our children see of us when sober?
  10. What about when under the influence?
  11. Do we know everyone in the house or where we are?
  12. What about tomorrow when on a hangover or come down?
  13. Are we emotionally available for our children when under the influence?
  14. Will the children still be okay when the babysitter goes home and we are intoxicated?

 

How I handle it

  The approach we have to drinking is:  

  1. We tend to avoid drinking in the day (nothing good ever comes of it!) and if we want a drink, we do so when the children have gone to bed (a time boundary that works well for us)
  2. My children do not witness us drinking as a coping mechanism
  3. We don’t take them late to parties where adults are drinking
  4. We aim for them to understand alcohol can be enjoyed as an occasional recreational thing and not be ‘hidden’ from it
  5. We have told my daughter that some people have problems when they drink too much wine or take drugs and that mummy helps them

 

Final thoughts

  Parental substance use can be a safeguarding issue if children are deemed at risk and we all have a safeguarding responsibility for children, whose needs are deemed as paramount to ours. This doesn’t mean that parents can’t enjoy themselves with a bit of parental substance use and be great parents, but I’ve seen in my practice that there is a fine line between what is acceptable and what is not. I ask for you to put yourself in your children’s shoes before inviting everyone round to party. My advice is- get the kids out of the way and then let your hair down! If you want help with your drinking or drug use or you are affected by someone else’s, please Get in touch for a friendly chat about your situation and to find out more about my services.

Take care,

Victoria.