Whilst we know that not all children whose parents/carers use alcohol will experience significant harm, there is compelling evidence to show that children within these families are at greater risk of poor outcomes. We know from evidence that drinking any amount of alcohol during pregnancy can cause difficulties such as increasing the risk of low birthweight, stillbirth, premature birth, and long-term conditions including fetal alcohol syndrome. We also know that children of parents who use alcohol are at higher risk of poor outcomes such as abuse, neglect, unintentional injuries, and emotional symptoms.
In December 2018, West Sussex County Council was one of nine local authorities in England that secured innovation funding from the Department of Health and Social Care and Department of Work and Pensions, through Public Health England. The objectives of the innovation fund were to help improve the lives of adults and children impacted by alcohol use, and to strengthen systems and processes for working with families affected by alcohol dependency and parental conflict. In West Sussex, we chose to focus on four areas:
- Developing a new service called ‘Growing Families’ to support pregnant women who drink or are at risk of drinking alcohol (and their partners)
- Training staff who work with expectant and new parents to identify alcohol use earlier and offer support via local services, such as ‘Growing Families’
- Countywide expansion of an existing Children and Young People (CYP) Therapeutic Service, which provides specialist support to CYP affected by parental alcohol use
- Producing a summer campaign to provide information to expectant and new parents about the impact of parental alcohol use on children
For us to fully understand whether these services have been successful, it is the outcomes for children and families that really matter. Through evaluation, we can systematically assess whether new services for families work, what might need to change and learn how we can further improve. The reports given here represent our findings from an extensive, local evaluation of the innovation fund project in West Sussex. This summarises the combined efforts of many individuals and organisations working together as part of a system in West Sussex to improve the lives of families and children affected by alcohol. We collected and examined data, feedback and experiences from the people who use and deliver these services, and from staff who work with families. Our local evaluation revealed examples of good practice in West Sussex and demonstrated how the services improved outcomes for families, including reduced self-reported alcohol use among expectant and new parents, and improved life satisfaction, self-esteem, confidence, and emotional wellbeing among CYP. This also revealed where we need make changes to improve services and support available to children and families, as described in 16 recommendations.