A charity working to safeguard children has revealed it receives almost one call every hour to its helpline from adults concerned about drug and alcohol abuse around children.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) released figures on Monday showing the extent of children’s exposure to harmful substances in the UK.
The figures, released to coincide with Children of Alcoholics Week, which began on Sunday, show the charity’s helpline has been called 25,000 times during the last three years.
During the last year, the NSPCC said it received 8,500 calls describing “potential substance misuse amongst adults when children and young people were in their care or nearby”.
The number of calls, the charity said, has increased 16% since the 2013/2014 financial year when just over 7,300 people sought help.
The charity said many of the calls are “judged so serious” that it has made 20,000 referrals to external agencies, including the police and children’s services, “about substance abuse around children” during the past three years.
NSPCC said substance misuse “is a significant risk for children and often leads to neglect and abuse”, as excessive consumption “inevitably” makes it “difficult for parents to deal with family life” and puts pressure on relationships.
The charity released two examples of the type of calls it typically receives. One concerned a member of the public worried about drug use at a property being occupied by children.
The caller said:
“They have a party going on in the house every weekend; I see lots of people entering and leaving the property and there is a strong smell of drugs lingering in the air when this happens. The children are inside the home when the parties are taking place and I’m becoming worried for their welfare. The mother has a drinking problem and she regularly leaves the children at home on their own too. I don’t want to approach her myself as it may create tension between us. What should I do?”
The other alleged alcohol abuse.
The caller said:
“I feel really sad about what’s happened but I’m concerned about the children. The father of the child lost his partner recently and has since started drinking heavily. He has stopped going to work and isn’t doing much with himself apart from drinking away. I’ve noticed the children aren’t going to school regularly anymore or being fed properly. Most of the furniture in the house is smashed up and I don’t think it’s suitable for children to be living in. I feel really stressed out because I don’t know what to do – please help.”
Peter Wanless, NSPCC chief executive, said it is “troubling” that the charity is receiving more calls to its helpline as drug and alcohol abuse can have a “hugely damaging” effect on children.
“Substance misuse all too often leads to the neglect or abuse of a child and it’s absolutely crucial that we do all we can to stop that,” he said.
“The NSPCC provides services directly to families suffering from these problems to help them overcome them and provide their children with a safe and secure upbringing.
“But everyone has a duty to look out for potential signs of distress and the NSPCC’s helpline is there to provide help and support 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”
The NSPCC works with parents battling alcohol and drug addiction and provides services aimed at supporting their recovery.
The NSPCC’s Helpline is a free and confidential service available on 0808 800 5000 or via firstname.lastname@example.org