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Investigating the impact of alcohol’s harm on children

Dr Taisia Huckle from Massey University’s SHORE & Whāriki Research Centre has been awarded a Sir Charles Hercus Health Research Fellowship from the Health Research Council of New Zealand.

The $500,000 grant will fund Dr Huckle’s latest research project, entitled Alcohol’s harm to others: impacts on children of problem/heavy drinkers, and will be carried out over the next four years.

“New Zealand has one of the highest rates of child maltreatment and neglect in the developed world and heavy alcohol use by caregivers is likely a contributing factor. This type of harm to children from alcohol remains largely invisible or neglected,” Dr Huckle says.

“The evidence is clear that heavy use of alcohol by parents places children at increased risk of serious harm. In a 2008 study, at least 17 per cent of children in New Zealand were reported to experience harm due to another’s drinking, including verbal abuse, being physically hurt, witnessing violence between intimate partners, as well be being neglected or left unsupervised. This proportion is higher than estimated in other countries, including Australia [12 per cent] and Ireland [11 per cent].

“It is so important to look at this issue as child maltreatment affects development and is related to suicide and substance misuse later on. Child maltreatment is not yet included in estimates of alcohol’s contribution to the Global Burden of Disease Study as there is a need for national studies to provide empirical risk estimates.”

The study aims to estimate alcohol’s effect on child maltreatment among those aged 0-17 years comparing those exposed versus not exposed to problem/heavy drinking by parents in New Zealand.

“This research will quantify harm to children from drinking using the Statistics New Zealand Integrated Data Infrastructure [IDI]. The IDI links data across different datasets, including inter-generational linking, to allow for the quantification of alcohol’s impact on child maltreatment that will be almost unique internationally. No person can be identified from the data,” Dr Huckle says.

“We will use a cohort of all children born in 2000 and follow them through to 2018. We will conduct a survival analysis which compares the occurrence of documented maltreatment in children with and without exposure to parental problem/heavy drinking,” Dr Huckle says.

“The study will provide a more complete picture of the burden of drinking in communities to inform decision making about policy on alcohol control. In the case of tobacco, the effects of second-hand smoke was an important element in advocacy for healthier public policy, and it is likely alcohol’s harm to others will also contribute to the policy debate.”

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