It is widely known that the effect of parental drinking can have a profound effect on their children’s mental and physical health. These children are six times more likely to experience abuse and violence in the home. As the Covid-19 lockdown continues, and many of our vital public services remain closed, these troubled families and their children have been left to fend for themselves. Many of their safety nets, like school, have been sharply withdrawn, writes the National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NACOA).
In the run up to the lockdown, NACOA saw an increase in contacts from professionals and other agencies who, knowing their services would close down, wanted the children who ordinarily rely on them to have access to help and support.
There has also been an increase in ‘dropped calls’ when someone calls and hangs up. “Sometimes, they lose ‘courage’ and hang up but tell us later that they liked hearing a ‘friendly voice’”, says NACOA. “It’s a bit like a trial run before they feel ready to talk.”
These children often thrive in a crisis, says the charity. They are used to it because they live with chaos. However, the emotional energy it takes for children to take on responsibility for their parent’s crisis and attempt to step into the parental role for younger siblings is harmful in both the short and long term. Some of the children are looking after babies and their fear of not being able to cope can be overwhelming and can have lasting effects on their mental health.
The data show that only 2% of the anticipated 20% of children of keyworkers and vulnerable families are attending school during lockdown. This means that the majority of children who live in troubled homes are now in those homes for 24 hours a day. “Imagine lockdown with parents drinking more and more and with nowhere to go; no escape.”
NACOA’s telephone and email helplines have been open throughout the Covid-19 crisis and calls have doubled in the past 2 weeks.
“We’ve seen an increasing number of calls from children whose parents have started to drink again and we know that there has been a steep rise in alcohol sales.”
Callers are talking about living with increasingly unpredictable behaviour, being abused or ignored, witnessing aggression between family members, feeling frightened on a daily basis in their own homes and feeling trapped.
Without support these children’s need for attention and affection go unmet and as lockdown continues, these needs are repressed and denied. The concern is that they will turn to eating problems, an exaggerated need to control, self-harm and drinking as a means of coping.
However, something as simple as a chance to talk to a kindly voice about anything to someone who understands can make all the difference. “Talking to NACOA is not being disloyal to their parents, it’s looking after themselves so they can live fulfilled lives and stop the cycle of addiction”, says the charity.
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