Harm to children from others' drinking

August 2015

NDRI: Dr Anne-Marie Laslett, Professor Tanya Chikritzhs

Project description: 

Children of heavy drinkers are at increased risk of many health and social problems, including health outcomes such as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder, reduced intellectual development, anxiety, depression, adolescent suicidality and poorer general health disease and injury outcomes. In Australia, since the early beginnings of the child rescue movement, drinking has been recognised as being involved in social problems too, for instance: incidents of child abuse and neglect, domestic violence and family breakdown. One in 5 children in Australia have been negatively affected by others’ drinking, a third of child maltreatment in Australia involves carer alcohol abuse and alcohol is involved in more severe and repeated child maltreatment. 

Drinking amongst Australian parents is widespread. Studies indicate that 79% of drinkers living with children consume alcohol around them, and 31% of respondents with children drink riskily at least monthly. While this is not necessarily a concern, the Alcohol’s Harm To Others (AHTO) work Laslett leads in Australia indicates that family members’ heavy drinking too often results in verbal abuse, exposure to domestic violence, poor supervision and physical injury of children. One in 6 respondents in Australia report a child in their family had experienced at least one of these alcohol-related harms to children (ARHC) in the previous year. 

Dr Anne-Marie Laslett was awarded a National Health and Medical Research Council Early Career Fellowship to further this research on “Harm to children from others' drinking”. Her position at NDRI commenced in May this year and will include three main studies to be undertaken over four years. 

  • Study 1 will include cross-national analyses of alcohol’s harm to children in surveys from 9 different countries, addressing questions such as: What is the nature of and context of alcohol’s harm to children? Does alcohol’s harm to children vary cross-nationally or is it universal?
  • Study 2 will also contribute to the study’s first aim by first collating and then analysing child health and welfare harm data, exploring to what extent alcohol is involved in selected health and child protection outcomes and services across Australia, and whether social location plays a role.
  • Study 3 will analyse the relationships within Australia between measures of alcohol consumption and child health and social outcome indicators over time and geographically, exploring questions such as: Are changes in annual child injury deaths and injuries and changes in child protection caseloads correlated over time with changes in per capita alcohol consumption in Australia?

The findings will contribute new knowledge of the harms to children from alcohol, and explore with time-series analysis the evidence on whether changes in licence density and alcohol sales have contributed to changes in harms to children. Because the drinking of parents and family members are beyond the control of the children affected, the evidence provided on these “externalities” contributes powerful evidence for policymaking, identifying potential points of intervention for prevention of harms to children from others’ drinking.