Concerns over parents' drug and alcohol use soar in pandemic, says NSPCC

In the North East and Cumbria, the average monthly number of child welfare referrals rose by 120%. Credit: PA

The NSPCC has said concerns over parents using drugs and alcohol have soared since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

In the North East and Cumbria, the average monthly number of child welfare referrals rose by 120%.

This is from an average of 31 per month between January and March 2020, to 69 per month between April 2020 and January 2021.


referrals in the North East and Cumbria over the last 10 months

The charity released the latest figures this week to mark Children of Alcoholics Week, which raises awareness of children affected by parental alcohol problems.

This includes adults who consume harmful amounts of alcohol, are dependent on alcohol, use prescription drugs excessively or are using illegal drugs, any of which impacts their ability to care for a child.

Living in a household where a parent or carer misuses substances does not necessarily mean a child will experience abuse, but it can make it more difficult for parents to provide safe and consistent care and this can lead to abuse or neglect. It can also have a serious impact on children's emotional well-being.


The latest figures show the monthly average number of contacts to the NSPCC helpline from people across the UK worried about parental substance misuse is 66% higher since April 2020.

The children's charity is urging anyone with concerns about a child due to a parent's drug or alcohol intake to contact their helpline for support on 0808 800 5000.

In the period before the first national lockdown (6 Jan - 22 Mar 2020), there was an average of 709 contacts a month from UK adults worried a child was being placed at risk by their parent or carer's use of drink and/or drugs.

In the ten months since then (1 Apr - 31 Jan 2021) this increased to an average of 1,178 contacts a month.

In total, there were 11,784 contacts - the equivalent of more than 38 a day. Many of these were so serious they had to be reported to external agencies such as the police and children's services.

Due to the pandemic, children are much more immersed in the problems they are facing at home, according to the charity. Schools have stayed open for vulnerable children and those of key workers but many remain at home, meaning there is no escape for those living with parental substance misuse.

Some signs that the NSPCC says to look out for:

  • Parents may be visually under the influence of alcohol or drugs over video chat or in public

  • A change in the parent's behaviour as they may have difficulty controlling their emotions of act irrationally or unpredictably

  • A child may become withdrawn or develop behavioural, emotional or mental health problems

  • Aggressive or repeated shouting at home

  • Children may have taken on the responsibility of caring for their parents or siblings

  • Children looking dirty or not changing their clothes

Kam Thandi, Head of NSPCC Helpline explained: "Parental substance misuse can have a seriously detrimental impact on the whole family. The pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have created a perfect storm for families affected by this problem.

"At the NSPCC helpline we've not only seen a rise in contacts and referrals but we're also seeing families who weren't previously known to children's services requiring help and support for substance misuse.

"The pressures on families at the moment are unprecedented and it is no surprise that our helpline is hearing that parents and carers are struggling with substance misuse. To keep our children safe it's vital that those who are relying on drugs and alcohol, to the extent that the care of their children is being compromised, must seek help."

The NSPCC is calling on anyone who is concerned a child is at risk due to parental substance misuse to contact their helpline. Trained professionals can offer advice to make sure everyone in the family receives the support they need, both parents and children.