Stigmas impact on children who have a parent with a substance use disorder

Starlings Community

Approximately ⅙ Canadian children are exposed to the stress and stigma of parent’s substance use disorder, and many parents do not have access to adequate supports that could enable healthier substance use and parenting practices. These experiences pu these children at doule the risk for mental illness, suicide, and addiction itself. Despite these statistics and our increased knowledge of the connection between childhood stress and risk for addiction, these children are often left navigating their challenging experiences on their own within a system that often re-traumatizes them. To mitigate the risk of stress and trauma in children and prevent the intergenerational cycle of substance use disorders, we must understand the deeply rooted ways in which stigma prevents children from healing. This symposium will highlight the current gap in research and in services to families impacted by parental addiction.   


Agnes Chen
Agnes Chen is a proud mom of 4, a registered nurse, and the founder of Starlings Community, a not for profit whose mission is to ensure the healing of children impacted by the stigma of a parent’s substance use. As a child, Agnes grew up in a home where untreated trauma and addictions existed, which exposed her to the deeply rooted ways stigma exists in our society and within our current systems of care. Today, she uses her personal and professional experiences to inspire a community that can offer impacted families hope while simultaneously enabling a family's healing.

Key takeaways

  • Having a parent struggling with problematic substance use increases the risk of adverse health outcomes for their children
  • The impact of stigma and parental substance use are twofold – that:
    • (1) programs, services or treatment models rarely offer proactive supports for families with substance use concerns, thus limiting what the public can access (where stigma is internalized by the system itself)
    • (2) family members do not present to services due to feelings of shame and/or concerns about confidentiality of the family member struggling with substance use

Key Learning Objectives (defined by presenters)

  1. Gain an appreciation for how stigma may feel to children impacted by addictions
  2. Gain an understanding of the ways social, structural stigma, and self stigma impacts children who have a parent with an addiction
  3. Highlight the current gap in research and in services to families impacted by parental addiction

Key Themes

  1. Stigma regarding substance use
  2. Parental addiction

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