30,000 children living in the shadow of drugs and drink, says Norfolk charity

A staggering 30,000 children in Norfolk and Suffolk are living with parents who are addicted to drink or drugs, new figures have revealed.

Statistics from a Norfolk-based drugs action charity estimate that between 12,000 and 18,000 children in the two counties live in a home where one or both parents abuse alcohol, and up to 9,000 live with one or both parents with a drug problem.

In some cases children as young as five are being put in the position of trying to take care of their parents, often being forced to skip school to look after them and deal with their sickness.

The problem in Norfolk and Suffolk has grown so much that the charity NORCAS last night launched its first ever fundraising appeal to raise �50,000 specifically to launch a new youth service to help the children whose young lives are blighted by the shadow cast by addiction.

The aim of the 'Too Much Too Young' appeal is to allow NORCAS, which supports those who have problems with drugs, alcohol and gambling, to develop a dedicated service across Norfolk and Suffolk to work with children on a daily basis.

The charity is looking to raise �50,000 which will go towards helping those between the ages of seven and 13 who are affected by a family member's substance misuse.

It would offer support to the children, including one to one help, respite breaks, the chance for them to talk about their problems with other children in a similar position and awareness projects in schools.

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Matt Wilson, head of fundraising at NORCAS, said: 'Children affected by a family member's misuse of drugs and alcohol has always been an issue and is becoming even more prevalent.

'The figures are increasing. There's a huge number of reasons for that. The accessibility to alcohol is one of them and the breakdown of sexual barriers in these families means the people with these problems are having more children.

'We recognise that children can be affected in a number of ways by a family member's substance misuse and that these problems can have severe negative consequences for the individuals as they grow up.'

Mr Wilson said financial difficulties and early responsibilities, domestic abuse, lack of school attendance, bullying and lack of social activities and role reversal were all problems the children could face.

These problems can have various negative consequences for the children, such as low self-esteem and confidence, lack of educational attainment, social exclusion, neglect of health and the risk of developing drug and alcohol problems themselves, robbing them of their childhoods.

He said: 'These children can experience a complete role reversal in that they will find themselves looking after the finances and having to lead the family.

'That probably means they do not attend school so much because they need to look after their parents and they can end up being isolated.

'They might not have the right clothes or be as clean as other children at school and that can lead to bullying.

'There can also be domestic abuse within the home and these children can be six times more likely than other children to end up misusing drink and drugs themselves.

'That's because they see their parents doing it as a coping mechanism and so that becomes their way of coping as well.'

A recent report from the NSPCC stated that children as young as five years old are trying to cope with the role reversal of attempting to look after their parents and siblings.

It was also noted that if a child is living with a parent who has substance misuse issues, they are six times more likely to misuse themselves.

A separate ChildLine report also stated that two thirds of callers to the service mentioned their parents' drinking, with some children saying their parents were regularly sick and that caring for them had affected their schooling, or prevented them forming friendships with other children.

The report said that children were three times more likely to have suffered abuse if their parent was drinking excessively.

Mr Wilson said NORCAS had taken the step to launch a fundraising campaign because there was nothing else to help these children.

He added: 'Without current statutory funding existing in Norfolk or Suffolk to help these children, NORCAS has decided to launch an appeal to start to make a difference.'

Every penny of the money raised through the NORCAS appeal will go straight to the children across Norfolk and Suffolk who need help.

Of the donations the charity receives:

• �26 will enable the charity to work with a group of young children for an hour

• �52 will train a child on what to do in an emergency (recovery position, first aid, 999)

• �156 will pay for a series of one-to-one sessions with a young child

• �500 will provide respite for a group of young children while their parents are in treatment

• �1,400 will pay to raise awareness of the service in four schools

• �13,924 will employ a youth worker for six months

Mr Wilson said NORCAS hoped to raise the money by Christmas, with a view to getting the service up and running in the new year.

Chloe Smith, Norwich North MP, said: 'This is an excellent cause and a very strong local organisation which I have been proud to support in the past. I hope people will support this campaign.'

If you would like to donate to the NORCAS 'Too Much Too Young' Appeal, visit www.toomuchtooyoungappeal.org.uk contact Matt Wilson on 01603 227053 or email m.wilson@norcas.org.uk

For more information on NORCAS and its services, visit www.norcas.org.uk