November 11, 2014 – Engaging parents in alcohol and drug education

On Tuesday 11th November the Alcohol and Drug Education and Prevention Information Service (ADEPIS) was in Leeds to share some useful advice for practitioners willing to better engage parents and families in alcohol and drug education.

The day was opened by Helena Conibear, Director of the Alcohol Education Trust who introduced the Talk About Alcohol programme. Helena stressed the importance of engaging parents in the conversation because, according to a recent research, parental tolerance to alcohol use still represents a key gateway to underage drinking. As Helena suggested a permissive parenting approach makes drinking outside home more likely.

The work delivered by the Alcohol Education Trust mainly looks at giving parents the confidence to talk about alcohol with their children, whilst helping them understand that going out and get drunk is not the norm for teenagers.


Oliver French, from Adfam introduced the forthcoming ADEPIS guidance document for schools ‘Involving families affected by substance use in alcohol and drug education’. Families with direct experience of alcohol or drug use could make a positive contribution to alcohol and drug education, if involved correctly. To ensure best practice:

  • Visits must be appropriately planned,
  • Shock tactics and scare stories must be avoided, and
  • A continuous relationship/partnership between the school and the visitor should be developed to avoid ‘one-off’ sessions

Involving families will give a new perspective to alcohol and drug education in giving it a holistic view.


Nikolaus Koutakis, PHD from Orebro University, Sweden introduced a ground-breaking evidence-based programme looking at supporting parents in keeping their child safe by influencing their drinking habits.

The Effekt programme works around parental leniency in relation to their own children’s use of alcohol. The programme works on three main stages:
1) Raising parental concern around alcohol use among young people;
2) Empowering parents by making them aware that their attitudes and behaviours matter;
3) Providing them with the right tools and techniques to prevent their child’s drinking behaviour.


Debby Allen, from Oxford Brookes University introduced the Strengthening Families Programme, an evidence-based programme aimed at strengthening the parent/carer child relationship in order to reduce alcohol and drug use and behavioural problems in adolescence.
This brief video, which was shown on the day, explains how the programme works.


To conclude, Steven Body from Leeds City Council gave a detailed overview of the services available in Leeds to support schools in better engaging with parents. This was done by looking at the Healthy Schools tools, policy and curriculum development, and referral options to external supporting agencies.

The final discussion raised very important points, challenges and suggestions to further improve the promotion of children and young people’s health and well-being.

What came across was that the key challenges were engaging with parents at school, and also encouraging teachers to ‘buy into’ these programmes. One of the suggestions to tackle this issue was the development of a better and more productive relationship between practitioners and school governors, to ensure the promotion of a whole school approach.

Another issue raised was the need to work not only with parents but also with health professionals, who very often accept young people’s drinking habits as social norm. Attendees felt that there is a need to change attitudes and perceptions among young people, parents, educators and health professionals through a more holistic approach, to ensure that everyone becomes less tolerant of early age drinking.

There was also a general perception that parents may be reluctant to engage with schools because of the relatively wide-spread fear of being attacked for their own drinking habits. This is where programmes like Effekt – where parental drinking behaviours are not directly looked at or criticised – could make a difference into developing a positive involvement of families in alcohol and drug education.

We would like to thank all speakers (some of whom travelled from as far as Sweden) and attendees for contributing to such an insightful day.