• September 2012
  • Vol. 13, No. 8

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Children of Parents With Mental Health, Substance Abuse Disorders

Children whose parents suffer from both mental illness and substance abuse often face complex issues due to an unstable home life. A new research brief from the National Abandoned Infants Assistance Resource Center (AIA) explores the risk factors for children of parents with co-occurring mental illness and substance abuse, explains the effects of these disabilities, and details specific services that fit the children's needs.

Researchers have found that children living with parents with mental health and substance abuse disorders are often exposed to multiple risk factors such as violence, poverty, and neglect. As a result, many of these children can suffer from psychological disorders and are at higher risk for substance abuse. They may also become isolated from friends, family, and potential support networks; suffer from developmental delays; and be expected to compensate for their parent's inability to function normally in the home by taking on responsibilities not appropriate to their age (this is known as the "parentification" of the child).

The brief indicates that, in order to meet these children's multifaceted needs, a range of comprehensive, family-centered services should be offered through systemwide collaboration. These should be made available throughout all stages of an affected youth's childhood, into their young adulthood. Some of the suggested services include:

  • Universal prenatal screening for co-occurring disorders for mothers found to have mental illness or substance abuse disorders, and subsequent postpartum monitoring
  • Education for children on their parent's disorders and the facilitation of an open dialogue between parent and child
  • Assistance in creating formal and informal support systems for the child
  • Family therapy or referrals to therapy

Supporting Children of Parents with Co-occurring Mental Illness and Substance Abuse is available on the AIA website:

http://aia.berkeley.edu/media/pdf/brief_supporting_children.pdf?utm_campaign=Global%20-%20AIA%20Website%20Redesign&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&utm_content=Download%20PDF (1 MB)

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