Introduction

t is becoming more widely recognised that parental alcohol misuse and parental domestic abuse are inextricably linked, and can therefore bring increased risk of harm to children who live in these environments. Whilst the presence of one problem increases the likelihood of the other problem also being present, the literature is clear that there is not a causal link between the two issues.

Given the challenges in knowing, or even being able to estimate, how many children might be affected by parental alcohol misuse, or parental domestic abuse, assessing the size of the young population affected by both problems is almost impossible. Nonetheless some work has been done to try and gauge the numbers who might be affected, calculations often based on assumptions drawn from the co-existence of the problems amongst adults who are also parents and on the knowledge that there is much overlap between the children and their families who will be affected through living with parental alcohol misuse or parental domestic abuse.

Thus, it is believed that about a third of incidents of intimate partner violence in England involve alcohol misuse by the perpetrator; these figures will increase when domestic violence more generally is considered. Evidence also suggests that many adult victims of domestic violence will drunk or have alcohol problems at the time of the incident or can use drinking as a means of coping and may themselves develop alcohol problems. This can only place children in more danger. It is known that more than a quarter of women will experience domestic abuse in their lives; women, particularly single women, with children are at double the risk. Pregnant women are also at greater risk of experiencing violence, the likelihood of miscarriage or foetal harm is common.

The high prevalence of the issues on the caseloads of social workers produces some of the best guidance on the extent of the co-existence of both problems. A study of nearly 300 social services cases in four London Boroughs (Forrester & Harwin, 2006), involving 120 children, found that violence was present in 55 families; in two thirds of those families, substance misuse, particularly alcohol misuse, was also present. Another study of just over 350 cases from six Local Authorities (Cleaver et al., 2007) reported that the reason for the initial referral was parental violence in 60% of cases, parental substance misuse in half of cases and both problems together in a fifth of cases (in these cases domestic violence was more likely to co-exist with alcohol misuse than drug misuse). Both these studies reported that younger children, particularly 5 years old and under, were over-represented in their samples.