Study looks at young people in families where the use of drugs and alcohol is an issue

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

14 September 2009: An increasing number of children and young people in Australia come from families affected by issues with alcohol and drugs.

These young people often have poor social, health and educational outcomes. Until now, little has been understood about how they perceive their lives and the role they take on in supporting their families.

To mark National Child Protection Week, the Institute of Child Protection Studies (ICPS) at Australian Catholic University's (ACU) Canberra Campus has released a report about young people in alcohol and drug-affected families.

The report (PDF, 732kb), carried out in 2008, is called Who Cares? Experiences of young people living with a family member who has an alcohol or other drug issue. The ACT Government has funded the project through its Carers Recognition Grants.

They have looked at the specific needs of children who have a parent with an alcohol or other drug issue and how they compare to other children with care responsibilities.

The study engaged 15 young people between 11 and 17 years of age who have cared for a parent or sibling with an alcohol or drug issue.

Key findings indicated the following:

-    Young people found it difficult to get help and were often passed on from service to service;

-    Young people were often living in poverty, were disconnected from their communities, supervised siblings and carried the financial burden of their families; and

-    While some of the children were committed to not using drugs or alcohol, for some it has been normalised in the home or it is seen as a way to cope with life.

Tim Moore, researcher from the ICPS, said the results indicated that this group of young people faced significant complexity in their lives.

"Just because you are a user of alcohol or other drugs, does not necessarily mean that you are not able to care for your children. However for the young people we interviewed, the substance use did lead to a range of negative experiences," he said. "It is imperative that services working with young people and families recognise this and provide adequate support."

The findings of the Who Cares? report (PDF, 732kb) will make recommendations to community service including the need for youth and alcohol and drug services to be more accessible and family-centered.