A conference on the impact of alcohol on babies and children is a timely reminder that every child needs a sober caregiver, says the Chair of the Child and Youth Mortality Review Committee (CYMRC).

Dr Nick Baker, who is also a community paediatrician, is a speaker at the ‘Babies, Children and Alcohol’ conference organised by Alcohol Action NZ and being held at Te Papa in Wellington on Thursday (22 March). 

He says alcohol use is often a factor in the deaths of babies and children. 

“Sometimes children are harmed by being in the care of someone who can’t keep them safe properly because they are intoxicated,” he says.  “Older children face added risks from drinking alcohol themselves or being in the company of people who are drunk.” 

He says parents and other caregivers need to model a responsible approach to alcohol. 

“Children learn how to act around alcohol by the actions of people around them.” 

The CYMRC operates under the umbrella of the Health Quality & Safety Commission, and reviews deaths of children and young people aged from 28 days to 24 years old. 

Last year the CYMRC published a special report on the role of alcohol in the deaths of children and young people in New Zealand. A copy of this report, The involvement of alcohol consumption in the deaths of children and young people in New Zealand during the years 2005 – 2007, is available on the Commission’s website at www.hqsc.govt.nz

The CYMRC has recommended limiting the availability of alcohol and making it less attractive, asking communities to consider establishing liquor bans in some areas, extending ‘host responsibility’ and health promotion messages, and mandating police to test for alcohol-related impairment whenever a child or young person is injured or dies. 

Dr Baker says there is still a lot to learn about the impact of alcohol on babies and children, but the scenarios he encounters as a paediatrician and in his CYMRC role highlight the deadly effect it can have. 

He says the following scenarios are typical of the situations he has encountered, while not actual case studies. 

  • A parent or caregiver who is impaired by alcohol accidentally suffocating their infant during sleep.
  • A child under five drowning while being supervised by parents who are impaired by alcohol.
  • A child growing up in a house hold where alcohol misuse is the norm, who later misuses alcohol.
  • A fatal car crash where the driver is alcohol impaired and the children were not using car safety restraints.

 

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