ACT News

Children bear brunt of alcohol-fuelled domestic violence

Children have been physically and verbally abused, left at home alone and been subjected to regular conflict in homes marred by booze-fuelled family violence, a national report revealed.

A new study funded by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education and the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research has shown the devastating impact of alcohol-related violence on the country's young people. 

Launched on Tuesday, The hidden harm: alcohol's impact on children and families report found more than 1 million children across the country were affected in some way by another person's alcohol consumption. 

About 140,000 children surveyed had been significantly affected by someone who drank, and more than 10,000 were in the child protection system because of a carer's drinking habit. 

Alcohol was a factor in about half of reported domestic violence incidents, and up to 47 per cent of child protection cases.

Children experienced many negative impacts as a result of alcohol consumption, including famly arguments, injuries, neglect, abuse, violence and observed poor drinking habits.

They also regularly witnessed verbal and physical conflict and inappropriate behaviour. 

The report pulled together information from two national surveys of the harm caused by alcohol and used data from police and child protection services, as well as information gathered through family interviews.

More than 26 per cent of respondents in at least one of the surveys in 2008 and 2011 reported harm from a family member who drank.

Those dangers were often persistent, with more than 50 per cent of adults, and 35 per cent of children, reporting harm in both of the years they were questioned.

FARE chief executive Michael Thorn said policy-makers and communities needed to better understand alcohol's role in family and domestic violence and use research to stop it happening in the first place.

"Alcohol-related family and domestic violence occurs all too frequently in Australia, and as a society, we need to be doing all we can to reduce the incidence and severity of the harms.

"This research makes very clear that because of the scale of the problem and the large numbers of children and families affected; governments must embrace a broad public health approach with a strong focus on prevention."

Karralika chief executive Camilla Rowland said the report's findings reflected the impacts staff often observed in children through the Canberra drug and alcohol outreach program.

Ms Rowland said children with a family member who battled alcohol abuse often displayed fear, low levels of confidence and difficulty maintaining healthy relationships.

"Sometimes when they've had a parent who has battled drug or alcohol abuse they've had to raise themselves."

Ms Rowland said it was vital support staff worked with both parents and children to re-establish parent-child relationships during rehabilitation. 

"It has to be a hand-in-hand approach that addresses the parents' substance abuse as well as the way they parent children, the way they manage a household."

The average stay for families in its residential program was 10 months, and they focused how to live as a family unit and operate in the community again. 

"Then the long-term prospects of families to stay together and have a healthy life together is very strong."

Mr Thorn said there was no one solution to reduce alcohol-related family violence and it called for a wide range of policy measures.

He called for a suite of reforms that included national public education campaigns that acknowledged the role of alcohol in family violence and tougher alcohol regulations.

Improvements to the way the alcohol and other drugs sector collaborated  with domestic violence, child protection and mental health services would also be vital, Mr Thorn said.

ACT Children's Minister Mick Gentleman said the report highlighted there was still much more work to do to minimise the impact of alcohol on families. 

He said the government's A Step Up for Kids program aimed to provide more support for children who had entered care after being impacted by trauma.