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Children of dependent drinkers: your innovation fund questions answered

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In England, there are 120,000 parents or carers who are potentially in need of specialist treatment for alcohol dependence.

The impact of this dependency on the lives of children can be significant and long lasting. Alcohol is often a major factor in causing or exacerbating parental conflict and violence, which can lead to a range of poor outcomes for children including damaging their education, employment and health. We estimate there are 200,000 children living with adults who are dependent drinkers.

Not only are children of parents with alcohol dependency more likely to become dependent themselves, but between 2011 and 2014 parental alcohol misuse was recorded as a factor in 37% of cases where a child was seriously hurt or killed. Similarly, a Department for Education’s census showed that in 2016 to 2017 18% of cases where there was an assessment of a child ‘in need’ were affected by alcohol.

To help tackle the distressing reality of children suffering because of issues with alcohol in the home, up to £4.5m of joint funding from Department of Health and Social Care and Department of Work and Pensions has been allocated to an innovation fund which will be managed by PHE.

Local authorities are a vital part of supporting these at-risk children into better environments and this fund represents an opportunity for local areas to embrace their creativity and really make a difference.

Not everywhere has the same level of problem. In some areas as many as 50 children per thousand are affected, and in others it’s as little as 10 per thousand.

However, what’s clear is that this funding offers a number of authorities the chance to look at how many more families in these circumstances could be identified and benefit from treatment and support.

In this blog, we answer the top five questions we’ve been asked by local authorities about the fund.

  1. What do you mean by parent and what age range is there for supporting children?

We recognise that families come in many shapes and sizes and the critical issue we’re looking to address is increasing the support and reducing the potential harms to children by being exposed to living with a dependent drinker.  This could include parents, step-parents and carers, and the support may be needed from the point of conception through to the age of 18 (or up to 25 in the case of care leavers).

In addition, a proportion of young people in treatment for alcohol problems are likely to be parents themselves.  National data suggests that up to one in 12 young women under 20 accessing drug and alcohol services are either pregnant or a teenage mother, and one in six young men under 25 accessing drug and alcohol services are young fathers.

  1. What do you mean by “ambitious”?

We are looking for local areas to set themselves stretching but realistic targets around increasing the number children and parents that are given support to reduce the harms that occur from alcohol dependence.  These may differ from area to area – depending on the current levels of unmet need, and the levels of partnership that already exist between systems and services.

  1. Does our bid have to propose new things we will do or can we build on what we’re already doing?

We are expecting a focus on enhancing how systems work together to improve identification of families where help is needed and how that help is delivered.  We anticipate that many of the bids we receive will therefore revolve around improving or expanding existing systems and services.  If you are thinking about asking for funding for a new service then you will need to demonstrate that it will be sustainable after the period of the grant.

  1. Can we work together with other areas to put in a bid to the Innovation Fund?

There is no barrier to developing a bid across a wider geographical footprint as long as what you are proposing is both robust and ambitious.  However, you will want to think about how resource intensive this approach might be.  It is important to know that we are keen to have a good geographical spread in the areas we support.

  1. How will successful bids to the Innovation Fund for Children of Dependent Drinkers be chosen?

We have opened a call for expressions of interest to the fund against a set of criteria that have been agreed with DHSC and DWP which include: increasing the number of children of alcohol dependent parents identified and supported; increasing the number of parents in alcohol treatment; and working to reduce parental conflict.

Bids received will be given a provisional score by officials (from PHE, DHSC and DWP) in order to develop a longlist of candidates.  Due diligence checks will be carried out by PHE finance and centre teams and further information collected if necessary.

A national panel will interview longlisted candidates and make recommendations for successful bids to Ministers who will announce those selected to go forward in October this year.

To support applications a toolkit is available to help LAs in planning services. The toolkit includes data and advice on how best to meet the needs of children growing up in these situations and those of their parents and carers. This is the first time PHE has published local prevalence data of this nature.

It is hoped that the data will assist LAs in identifying and commissioning appropriate services with sufficient capacity and resources to meet the needs of their populations. Application forms should be submitted to: by 17 July. Further FAQs are available here.

For further discussion on the impact of parental alcohol dependency see:


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