Better Care

'Who's in charge?' - campaign launched to cut child harm caused by drinking at home

Parents from all backgrounds across Birmingham are putting their children at risk when they drink alcohol at home. A new campaign from Birmingham Community Healthcare depicts real life child harm scenarios and asks – ‘when you drink, who’s in charge?’

A campaign has been launched in response to increasing concerns that growing numbers of babies and children are at risk of serious harm because of the way their parents consume alcohol at home.

Safeguarding officials warn that children are being placed in danger and even losing their lives because adults who in many cases do not consider themselves excessive drinkers are not exercising normal levels of care and attention while drinking or recovering from the after-effects of over-indulgence in alcohol.

And they warn of a ‘double jeopardy’ effect - that drinking too much alcohol can not only reduce a parent’s capacity to appropriately respond to children’s needs, but also make the drunken adult an active danger to the child.

One of the most worrying trends identified locally and nationally is a rise in the number of baby deaths connected with sleeping on a sofa with an adult who is under the influence of alcohol, the number of children left to care for their younger siblings and the impact of the example of parents’ drinking patterns on young people.

[ Zoom ]
Who's in Charge? man asleep on settee
The number of victims of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome who were sleeping with a parent on a sofa has risen.
Who's In Charge? hallway

Now child safeguarding nurses at Birmingham Community Healthcare aim to raise awareness of the issue among parents and reduce the number of children suffering harm.

The campaign – named ‘Who’s In Charge?’ – urges parents, and others with responsibility for children, to be aware of a range of potentially dangerous consequences if no adult remains sufficiently sober and aware of children’s needs or whereabouts.

Clare Edwards, head of safeguarding children at Birmingham Community Healthcare, said:

“This slogan represents the voice of the child watching parents under the influence of alcohol as much as it is a reminder to parents of the need to ask each other ‘who’s in charge?’ as they would when driving to a social event.

“The strong message we want to get across is to ask that all parents, grandparents and other adults caring for children consider ‘who is in charge?’ if they become incapable of meeting their responsibility for the health and wellbeing of their children while in or out of their home.” 


Jane Held, chair of the Birmingham Safeguarding Children Board, said:

“The safety and wellbeing of children should always be uppermost in the minds of adults, whether acting in the role of professional or parent.

"There is nothing wrong with parents relaxing and enjoying themselves. In fact it is important that parents get some time to themselves.

“But, the reality is that our capability to keep children safe from harm is significantly reduced with every alcoholic drink; and, at a certain level of intoxication, adults become a live risk themselves – the starkest evidence being the increased incidence of babies being smothered by adults who have been drinking.

“I would urge any adult who may drink while responsible for a child to ask themselves the simple question ‘who’s in charge?’. Parents having a drink together need to ask it of each other; and, most powerfully of all, I would ask every parent or carer to hear in this simple enquiry the quiet voice of the child who needs comfort or care.”

In cases that add to the weight of evidence of an escalating problem, children have been found wandering alone in the street because the adult in charge of them was too drunk to have noticed their absence. 

Who's in Charge? kitchen

Meanwhile, teachers have noted more absences from school arising from parents being too alcohol-impaired to make sure their children attend or because a child has had to remain at home to look after a drunk parent, carer or younger sibling.

In one year in Birmingham alone: 

82% of babies who died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome were sleeping with a parent at the time

56% of these deaths were on a sofa; 44% in the parental bed.

78% of the fatalities were associated with parental alcohol use at the time, while 44% involved parental drug use.

(Birmingham Child Death Overview Panel, 2012) 

Dennis Wilkes, public health lead and chair of Birmingham’s child death overview panel said:

“There are a lot of people for whom drinking in moderation at home is a harmless part of their social and domestic life. However, many do not realise the amount or the effects of the alcohol they are regularly consuming.

“Sadly we have noticed a significant increase in the number of incidents and deaths in which a child has come to harm which can be connected to adult consumption of alcohol at home.

“We want to support parents to reduce that risk by raising awareness through the campaign slogan, to initiate that conversation in the home in a similar way that we discuss who drinks and who drives when we are on the roads.”

Visit the Health & Social Care Information Centre for national alcohol consumption information.

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The safeguarding children team welcomes enquiries from professionals and members of the public about all matters concerning the health, wellbeing and safety of children in Birmingham.

If you are interested in training or other awareness raising opportunities using the Who's In Charge? materials and messages, please contact the team on 0121 466 7090 and ask for Barbara Wilson or Clare Edwards.