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The 'risk gradient' in policy on children of drug and alcohol users: Framing young people as risky

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Abstract:

Parental drug and alcohol problems can have a profound impact on children. There is a growing policy and practice focus on this topic in the UK. Most is concerned with children of primary school age and younger. Older children tend to be neglected in the debate, and young people of age 16 years and over are mostly absent from it. It is argued here that this reflects, and is reflected in, the construction of a 'risk gradient' in policy and practice. An analysis of Hidden Harm, the report of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs' inquiry into the impact of parental drug misuse, and related documents, is used to illustrate this. In the risk gradient, children are constructed as being at risk when younger, and becoming risky to themselves and others when older. The risk gradient stigmatizes young people as manifesters of risk, diminishes ongoing difficulties they face, and denies their coping strategies. The definition of risk as manifesting in institutional settings and services underscores this. It encourages a focus on parent - child risk transfer, to the detriment of other difficulties the child or young person may be facing, and renders the young person invisible when they leave service contexts. Finally, the culturally and legally established distinction between illicit drugs and alcohol tends to isolate families with alcohol problems. Most of the response to parental substance use has focused on illicit drugs, rendering the difficulties of young people affected by alcohol problems less visible except when they are manifesters of risk.

Keywords: Risk gradient; alcohol; children; drugs; parents; young people

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13698570701488837

Affiliations: University of Edinburgh, UK

Publication date: September 1, 2007

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