Published: 18th March 2021
With COVID-19 lockdowns in place for much of the last 12 months, our access to the outside world has been greatly reduced. What may not be so apparent is how this has affected families behind closed doors.
In this blog, we look at the reported increase in drug and alcohol misuse during lockdown and the impact on children and supporting services.
Increase in Alcohol Consumption during Lockdown
In 2020, alcohol consumption increased dramatically, according to the alcohol charity Drinkaware. Publishing its annual report, Monitor 2020 into UK drinking behaviours, it revealed that there had been a stark increase in drinking, with over a quarter (26%) of drinkers, drinking more than usual in the first lockdown of the pandemic (from March to June 2020).
The report also indicated that parents of children aged under 18 were more likely to have consumed more alcohol than normal within the first lockdown period (34% compared with 14% of those with no children under the age of 18). 
Sharpe Rise in Calls to Children’s Helplines
Several recent news reports have highlighted the rising number of calls made by children relating to their parents’ substance misuse. Last month, the BBC detailed how children’s charity, NSPCC Wales had seen a 72% rise in the number of referrals (572) to police and agencies since the pandemic began, relating to substance misuse.  These statistics have raised concern about how this problem, combined with the isolation of lockdown is affecting children.
The National Association for Children of Alcoholics (Nacoa) has also reported that calls to its helpline have increased, doubling to 31,000 over the past 12 months; with those aged 12 to 18 seeking help having quadrupled.  This particular charity is solely dedicated to providing information, advice and support for everyone affected by parents drinking.
Impact on Children’s Services
Case numbers during the lockdown periods over the last 12 months, have also increased for social workers and in a recent interview with ITV, these worries have been highlighted. Andy Tutte, a social worker in Merseyside explained how he would usually have six or seven cases and that now he has nineteen. Emphasising that while these are only small numbers, if you look at it as a percentage increase – it’s actually quite significant, he said. 
The experience of this social worker, who also supervises newly-qualified colleagues, revealed another growing concern about preparing the ‘next generation’ of social workers. Due to the increase in caseloads, time usually spent with those new to social care are no longer receiving the support they once did. These experiences have been echoed by research from the British Association of Social Workers (BASW).
In a survey of 1119 social workers across the UK, titled Social work during the Covid-19 pandemic: Initial Findings, the BASW revealed that 67% of respondents who worked in children’s services agreed that there had been an increase in the number of referrals and/or caseloads since schools and colleges returned in autumn 2020, following the first lockdown period.  The findings also clearly highlight concern amongst social workers regarding the ability to safeguard and protect adults and children due to growing caseloads and a reduction in support services, with 77% agreeing that working under the restriction brought about due to COVID-19 lockdowns being a key factor.
Lockdown and the pandemic has had a significant impact on drug and alcohol misuse and recovery, which in turn has put considerable strain on families and the services which support them.
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