How does alcohol testing prevent child deaths?

Alcohol addiction

A 2021 review by the NSPCC has said that parent/s or step-parent/s are commonly the people responsible for a child’s death in criminal cases. Many times these deaths are alcohol-related.

With the shock of multiple child deaths hitting the headlines over the last couple of months, panic has grown among some people working in and around children’s social care.

How much alcohol is too much alcohol?

Are social care departments to blame?

The panic around multiple child deaths has been exacerbated by staffing shortages and budget cuts. This leaves many people worried that a repeat of the “Baby P” situation is happening all over again.

However, the emeritus professor Eileen Munro defended the social care system. After a review of child protection for the government in 2011, she defended the system and insisted that:

“It would be unwise to launch into a major overhaul of social care on the back of such vivid and unusual protection tragedies.”

Eileen Munro – Emiritus professor of social policy at the London School of Economics

How can alcohol testing help safeguard at-risk children?

It’s known that a large proportion of non-accidental child deaths are caused by either neglect or physical abuse. This is often done by caregivers who are intoxicated by alcohol or drugs.

NSPCC found that 51% of child deaths in child abuse/neglect cases in England were linked to maltreatment and a further 24% from physical abuse or assault.

Many of these deaths were down to the parent/caregiver being inebriated. Could alcohol testing have lowered the numbers?

How a PEth test can be used in child custody cases

Examples of how alcohol testing could have prevented deaths

The news article told of how in 2019 “Child Ay”, a six-week-old baby, died due to suffocation after her parents fell asleep following a night of heavy drinking. 

Unfortunately, the above case isn’t alone as there are many like it. For example, in 2020 “Child Az” died in the most tragic of circumstances, once again the article stated that both parents had been drinking.

Why is alcohol testing important?

Monitoring alcohol intake doesn’t need to be complicated. If there are suspicions that one or both parents are experiencing problems due to alcohol, then testing can help.

Most individuals underestimate the amount they drink and are unaware of the effects it could be having on their health, mood and behaviour. Often individuals are reluctant to admit they are struggling with substance dependency.

How is substance testing used in the family court?
Alcohol testing services available

The effects of excess alcohol can be devastating – if there are concerns then testing for alcohol abuse is easy.

If long-term drinking is a concern then head hair alcohol testing and measurement of the biomarkers EtG and FAEEs can give an average result for the previous 3 or 6 months of drinking. It only needs to be a 3cm-6cm sample of head hair.

A blood sample alcohol test can also be used to assess the previous month’s alcohol intake.  These alcohol tests look for CDT as it’s the most specific marker for possible alcohol misuse. Other liver enzymes can also be affected by such alcohol intake. 

Such a test may show whether the individuals have other underlying causes. Blood alcohol testing can also reveal underlying health conditions or potential medical problems that a person may have.

If the parent/s are unable to give blood then a simple finger pin test known as a PEth (Dry Blood Spot) test reflects the amount of alcohol intake for the previous month. It is a highly specific and sensitive test, with results available within five days. 

See more articles on alcohol testing
Alcohol testing
How to get the fullest picture of alcohol consumption

If you’re looking for the full picture of alcohol use it is always best to consider doing more than one type of test. Other options could be to consider repeating the alcohol tests to monitor patterns of alcohol intake.

This way you can identify if individuals are simply abstaining from alcohol long enough to skew the results. At Atkinson Lewis, we would recommend monitoring for at least six months- one year where alcohol misuse is a parental factor in child neglect. 

Are Family Courts Seeing the Whole Truth in Drug and Alcohol Cases?
The Drug & Alcohol Laboratory Report that Offers a Medical Interpretation

At Atkinson Lewis, we are in the unique position of being able to offer a medical interpretation of results. Our experts have knowledge and experience in the field of diagnosing and treating alcohol misuse.

This enables us to clinically interpret the results to note down any medications that have been prescribed which are used to treat alcohol dependency or associated psychological problems. We can also identify any potential liver disease which may be associated with harmful drinking. If required we can also offer an opinion on the potential pattern of drinking and advice on further assessment and treatment.  

For more information on alcohol testing and other services we provide, please contact us.

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