Consumption of Alcohol by Foster Carers and Young People Policy

This chapter was added to the manual in January 2019, it is originally from the Northumberland Fostering and Adoption Services Manual and has been updated.

Government guidance on the consumption of alcohol by children and young people, based on scientific and medical evidence, makes it clear that the consumption of alcohol by children and young people is detrimental to their health and development, both in the short and long term, and that an alcohol-free childhood is the healthiest and best option.

There is also clear evidence that parents and carers can influence young people's alcohol use. Children are less likely to drink, or drink less, when parents and carers have strict rules on young people's drinking and show their disapproval of underage drinking rather than adopt a tolerant attitude, and supervise and manage young people's behaviour.

Children in care are particularly vulnerable to the health risks associated with alcohol consumption. Evidence from studies suggested that the physical and mental health of children in care is often poor in comparison to that of their peers. Evidence also suggests that children in care are four times more likely than their peers to smoke, use alcohol and misuse drugs. In addition children coming into care may have experienced strict discipline, family conflict and a family history of alcoholism which have been associated with an increased risk of higher levels of alcohol consumption by children and young people.

Northumberland County Council's policy is therefore that the consumption of alcohol by children and young people must be actively discouraged, and that foster carers must not buy or give any alcohol products to children or young people in care under the age of 16 and only in exceptional circumstances as detailed in this policy for young people 16 and 17 years old.

For children in care addressing drinking issues is the shared responsibility of everyone involved in the child's life, including the child's family, carer and social worker, health and education professionals, and specialist drug and alcohol services. The young person's Health Assessment should address their health needs, including any needs in relation to drinking and alcohol misuse. Services should be identified that will meet the young person's assessed needs.

Carers should work closely with the child's social worker, children in care nurse and any specialist services working with the young person to address their drinking issues.

Practice Guidance for foster carers in relation to young people and alcohol

  • Carers should actively promote, encourage, and emphasise the advantages of, an alcohol free childhood;
  • Carers should not adopt a permissive/tolerant approach to the consumption of alcohol by children and young people placed in their care;
  • Carers should talk openly with young people about alcohol and give guidance, or help young people access information and guidance, about the specific harms linked to drinking at a young age, including how risks change with age and the frequency and quantity of alcohol they consume. Carers should help young people make sensible drinking decisions and understand that delaying drinking alcohol until they are aged 18, or at least until they are over 15, will reduce health risks;
  • Carers are responsible for ensuring children and young people are not at risk from any alcohol kept in their home. Alcohol in a foster home should be kept out of children's reach or stored safely. Carers should monitor the alcohol in their home to ensure they are aware if any has been taken by a young person in their care without their permission;
  • Carers' behaviour management strategies should include incentives for young people not to consume alcohol;
  • Carers should prepare young people for an adult environment dominated by alcohol by discussing responsible drinking and the dangers associated with drinking and alcohol misuse;
  • Carers should set boundaries for drinking by discussing responsible drinking and ensuring that young people are aware of the types and strengths of different alcohol and recommended adult alcohol limits;
  • Carers have a critical role to play in showing children and young people how to drink responsibly. Children and young people should not witness drunkenness or binge drinking within their foster placement;
  • Carers must ensure that while caring for a foster child their parenting capacity is not impaired by alcohol;
  • Carers should be aware that many children and young people in care have had negative experiences of alcohol, including violence and abuse. Carers therefore need to be sensitive to the young person's perceptions of adults drinking and how this might vary from theirs and their own children's experiences;
  • Carers should talk to other parents, when children and young people are visiting or staying with friends, to ensure the rules they have in place regarding alcohol are followed;
  • Carers should monitor young people's access to alcohol for example being aware how much money children have at their disposal and what they are spending it on;
  • Fostered young people 16 years and older may under the supervision of their foster carer be permitted to consume one light alcoholic drink at significant family events, such as birthdays or festivities. This must be agreed as a part of the foster carers' delegated authority arrangements agreed by the young person's Social Worker and parent where appropriate. Any decision to permit the consumption of a small amount of alcohol must have regard to the individual circumstances of the young person;
  • Carers should seek advice from the child's social worker, Dedicated LAC Health Team, Family Placement Worker or any specialist services if they are aware, or are concerned, that the young person in their care is drinking. Clear strategies for managing the young person's alcohol consumption should be agreed and recorded in the child's Placement Plan/Health Care Plan.

Current legislation in relation to young people and alcohol consumption

  • It is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to purchase alcohol in licensed premises (Licensing Act (Young Persons) Act 2000);
  • It is illegal under the age of 14 to be alone in a place licensed purely for the sale of alcohol. It is legal over the age of 14 with the permission of the licensee;
  • 16 and 17 year olds can consume alcohol purchased by an adult (beer, cider and wine) on a licensed premises while eating a meal if an adult is present;
  • It is illegal to give alcohol, unless under medical supervision, to anyone under the age of 5;
  • While it is not illegal for parents to give their children over 5 alcohol in a private place it is a criminal and civil offence to cause a young person to suffer or likely to suffer harm through supplying / consuming alcohol (Children Act 1989);
  • If a young person under 18 year old is found in a public place consuming or intending to consume alcohol the police have the right to confiscate it.