Better Care

Campaign aims to reduce child harm danger

Child safety initiative urges parents thinking of drinking to ask – Who’s in Charge?

  • Parents urged to consider dangers of drinking while looking after children.

  • Risks heightened by effects of coronavirus pandemic.

  • Over 300 child injuries and deaths reported in England and Wales since April.

A new video 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 some parents and carers consume alcohol at home.

The campaign – launched in Alcohol Awareness Week 2020 - asks adults consuming alcohol at home while responsible for children a simple, but potentially life-saving, question – ‘when you drink, who’s in charge?’

It urges parents, and others with responsibility for children, to be aware of a range of potentially dangerous consequences of drinking alcohol while caring for children.

Who's in Charge? Man asleep on settee with baby after drinking alcohol

In the four year period ending in March 2020, 35 babies in the West Midlands region (Birmingham, Black Country, Coventry, Warwickshire, Solihull, Worcestershire, Staffordshire, Shropshire, Herefordshire, Telford and Wrekin) died while sharing beds or sofas with adults who had consumed more than two units of alcohol (or used illegal drugs). Eight of these deaths were in Birmingham.

Now Birmingham Safeguarding Children Partnership, in partnership with Birmingham Community Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, has produced a set of short films designed to raise awareness of the issue and reduce the number of children suffering harm.

The two-minute videos depict some of the most worrying trends identified locally and nationally, particularly baby deaths connected with sleeping on a sofa or co-sleeping in a bed with an adult who is under the influence of alcohol.

Child safety experts warn of a ‘double jeopardy’ effect - that drinking too much alcohol may not only reduce a parent’s capacity to appropriately respond to children’s needs, but also make the adult who has consumed alcohol an active danger to the child.

In an online speech to the National Children and Adults Services conference this month, Ofsted’s chief inspector Amanda Spielman highlighted growing concern about preventable unexpected infant deaths, citing cases of babies being endangered by not being put down to sleep safely, instead sharing a bed or sofa with a parent or other carer who has been drinking.

More than 300 ‘serious incident notifications’ of injury and death involving children were reported by local authorities between April and October, of which almost 40 per cent involved children under the age of one.

The number of babies in England to have suffered serious injury through abuse or neglect during the COVID-19 pandemic is up by a fifth on the same period last year, Ofsted report. Eight have died from their injuries.

Domestic alcohol consumption has been noted as an increasingly common factor in incidences of children being neglected or harmed. In July, the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel published their second national review of sudden unexpected death in infancy in families where the children are considered at risk of significant harm. 

The Out of Routine report highlights that the sudden and unexpected death of an infant is one of the most devastating tragedies that could happen to any family. In spite of substantial reductions in the incidence of sudden unexpected death in infancy in the 1990s, at least 300 infants die suddenly and unexpectedly each year in England and Wales.

Birmingham child safeguarding leads 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.

There are fears that the situation is likely to be worsened by increased domestic alcohol consumption arising from restrictions on licensed premises and social mixing during the pandemic.

Dr Joanna Garstang is a consultant community paediatrician at Birmingham Community Healthcare and a designated doctor responsible for overseeing the review of all child deaths in Birmingham.

She said: “The safest place for a baby to sleep is on their back, in their own cot, in a room with their parents. It is never safe for a baby to share a bed or a sofa with anyone who has drunk alcohol or used drugs.

“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.”

Penny Thompson CBE, Independent Chair of Birmingham Safeguarding Children Partnership 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 is babies being accidentally 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.

“This campaign has come about through Birmingham-based professionals’ commitment to keeping children safe from harm but we sincerely hope the message will be picked up far and wide because these issues are of concern in every kind of community.”

Head over to our resource bank to download Who's in Charge materials, including free-to-use videos.


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  • Who;s in Charge? logo ResourcesOrganisations are welcome to download and make appropriate use of resources with the specific purposes of supporting the Who's in Charge? campaign. All material is copyright BCHC.
  • As outdoor gatherings return - remember to ask 'Who's in Charge?'To coincide with the easing of lockdown restrictions on Monday, 12 April, a hard-hitting video campaign is urging adults to remember to ask the critical question 'Who's in Charge?' if they plan to drink alcohol while responsible for children.