See also…
The Queen's Award for Voluntary Service


Nacoa has grown from the hopes and dreams of five people who wanted children living with parental alcoholism to have the help and support we did not have.

The charity was set up in 1990 in response to work with substance users at St Joseph's Centre for Addiction in Haslemere, Surrey. Without the vision of Sister Mary Agnes and the Daughters of the Cross, who knows if David Stafford, Maya Parker, D Samways, Valerie McGee and I would have met in circumstances which transformed our dreams into reality - the Nacoa Helpline.

Following detox at Holy Cross Hospital, people would come into the centre for a five-week programme looking at their substance use, charting its history and planning a recovery. We often saw people come back into treatment, feeling ashamed and full of guilt, telling us that they could not maintain their sobriety at home; they simply did not fit into their families without the drink or drug.

And why should they when the family had been given little or no support. No chance to stop and think about the impact addiction had had on each of the family members and on the family itself, or the opportunity to plan for a different future. The family had often blamed 'the drink' or 'the drug' for everything wrong in the family and hoped that by its elimination, their homes would become happy, healthy places - a magical solution to all problems.

Families who subsequently attended a family programme told us that their lives had been similarly impacted by their loved one's drink or drug use. They often used 'something' to reward themselves when they were stressed; they too isolated themselves from friends and family, people who might help. They denied the problem and suffered with a range of physical and emotional illnesses. Often the only difference was that they had simply not picked up the drink or drug - or perhaps it did not work for them in that way that overwhelmingly transforming way that people dependent on alcohol or drugs often describe.

And lost in the re-arrangement of family life to accommodate not only the drink or drug ('the elephant in the room') but also a code of silence, the denial of any problems, were the children who were sometimes 'dragged along' to family days.

Some sat quietly afraid to say the wrong thing, being perfect - a shining example of how well their family was doing. Some refused to come, or attended and shouted, kicked and screamed and did all their power to be excluded from the group. Some were simply not seen. They were present but were away in another safer internal world and others made us laugh and smile, although there was a sadness that was tangible if you just looked beyond the eyes swimming with fun or was it fear?

How strange it must have seemed to them to be suddenly breaking all the old rules and being encouraged to talk about 'the problem'. Some found recalling past traumatic events too much to bear and would disappear either physically or into their own private world. Others found words although often simply described events but not how they felt.

This isn't what parents want for their children but when they are struggling with substance abuse, they are often unable to provide consistent nurturing for their children. The result is years - a childhood-worth - of accumulated social and psychological problems which increase the likelihood that their children will suffer, achieving lower educational levels and physical and mental health problems.

If inconsistent care continues for a prolonged period, the child's needs for attention, security and affection often go unmet and unarticulated. These needs are repressed and denied although they remain and seeking to satisfy them does not end, often becoming distorted and misdirected and acted out "inappropriately", sometimes through depression, aggression, eating problems, an exaggerated need to control (OCD), self-harm and substance abuse as a means of coping.

The stigma of alcoholism and addiction compounds the problem when the family - parents, siblings, extended family - collude to keep their problems secret from the outside world in an effort to keep their family together and 'safe'. It is perhaps the secretiveness that grows up with addition that causes most harm. If we want children to seek help and support we must look at the wider implications of the tide of irresponsible media coverage when people suffering with addictions are demonised and scapegoated for all the ills in society today.

Government and policy makers need to look beyond addictions and ask why, why so many people turn to drink or drugs. Not one of the many people we worked with told us that they woke up one day and thought they would drink too much or take drugs to ruin their lives and hurt their families.

Working with children at St Joseph's centre, it was clear that it was excruciatingly painful for them to find words to express how they felt and to feel safe enough to utter words previously forbidden; how much harder it is for children living with active addiction where the problem is denied - buried deep.

And so the Nacoa helpline was set up to empower these children with a variety of life skills to help them cope with difficult challenges. Telephone and email helplines allow children access to help and support without revealing themselves. Their need for privacy and control is respected. They can ring and terminate the call when they want. They will not be seen. They can talk about whatever is troubling them that day, at that moment. They are heard and believed.

The ordinary constrictions of prejudice and judgement - what you wear, how you look, what trainers you have - do not exist. They can remain unseen and in as safe a place as possible, while they begin to find the words to talk about themselves, their lives and their feelings. Sometimes they call at the point of crisis and we remain with them on the phone; a kindly voice in what might seem a hostile world.

Our callers talk about living with unpredictable behaviour, being abused or ignored, witnessing aggression between family members, feeling frightened on a daily basis in their own homes; often believing they are to blame for their family's problems.

Many talk about feeling anxious and depressed, different from other people and isolated without knowing why. They may be exposed to rage and violence or suffer from a chronic lack and neglect of the little things, which are crucial to the wellbeing of every child. They may have taken on the responsibility of looking after younger brothers and sisters.

All children need to be given a sense that the world is safe, consistent, capable of providing for their needs and unconditionally accepting of them just as they are, to enable the formation of a healthy sense of self-esteem and self-identity within the child - a true self.

The Nacoa helpline has developed by listening and taking account of what children and young people tell us they want and need. They are the true architects of our services and ambassadors to other children, that there is help, there is hope and there is a world different from the one they've known. In effect, the opportunity to discover that they can change how they feel about themselves and get what they need from others.

And 29 years on, at the heart of Nacoa there is still a passion to ensure that children do not suffer alone and in fear. We've received over 355,000 requests for help from children as young as five, who find the courage to call the helpline knowing that they can remain anonymous; freeing them to talk openly, by allowing them to remain in control. We are truly privileged to work with them; they trust us with their darkest thoughts and fears, talk to us about the very worst of human behaviour and show us the very best. They are testaments to the tenacity of the human spirit and remind us again and again never to underestimate how important it is to listen and how important it is to be heard.

Hilary Henriques MBE

Further information

For more information please see Nacoa Information 2019.

Timeline 1990 to 2015

Since 1990 Nacoa has responded to over 202,000 helpline calls and emails with the help of over 1,000 trained volunteers; and registered over 850,000 visits to the website.


  • Hilary Henriques, Valerie McGee, Maya Parker, Diana Samways and David Stafford establish The National Association for Children of Alcoholics
  • 0800 Helpline established, funded by John Dane
  • 150 Helpline calls, one Volunteer


  • Constitution written
  • Four broad aims established
  • Vision Statement – to provide information, advice and support for children affected by parental alcoholism or similar addictive problem
  • 250 Helpline calls, one Volunteer


  • Charitable status granted
  • Nielsen Consumer Research commissioned to obtain a measure of the size and scale of the problem in the UK, finding 2.05 M adult children of alcohol-dependent parents, 1.26 M reported significant problems as children and adults
  • 350 Helpline calls, one Volunteer


  • Dr C Gilvarry recruited to lead research
  • 450 Helpline calls, one Volunteer


  • Hilary Henriques employed full time
  • Included in the Home Office Drug Prevention Initiative as only agency concerned with alcohol
  • Funds secured to produce poster and leaflets – Some Mums and Dads Drink Too Much or Use Drugs – it Changes Them … and it Hurts’
  • 673 Helpline calls, one Volunteer


  • University of Bristol invite Nacoa to take part in Student Community Action Initiative
  • First training programme delivered for volunteer helpline counsellors
  • 969 Helpline calls, 23 Volunteers


  • The Rt. Hon. Dr Mo Mowlam MP recruited as Patron
  • Moved to pro-bono office at Wyndham Court
  • Publications produced including ‘Information for Children of Alcoholics’ and Annual Report
  • 1,104 Helpline calls, 28 Volunteers


  • Leaflet and poster produced ‘Some Mums and Dads Drink Too Much and it’s Frightening’
  • Co-founder and Chair of Trustees, David Stafford dies
  • 2,043 Helpline calls, 32 Volunteers


  • Helpline volunteer prepares first helpline evaluation
  • David Stafford Memorial Lecture established
  • Nacoa Membership extended and promoted
  • First website created by IT volunteer
  • 3,540 Helpline calls, 35 Volunteers


  • Publish Helpline Evaluation by Dr R Huxtable, supervised by Professor D Sharp
  • 4,602 Helpline calls, 35 Volunteers


  • Commission Professor M Callingham to research the extent, nature and comparison with other problems in UK, finding 2.8 M adult children and 920,000 children of alcohol-dependent parents
  • Study confirms that children affected by parental alcoholism report more problems that children affected by parents with mental health problems
  • Volunteers organise Ball to celebrate Nacoa’s tenth birthday
  • New website created by volunteer webmaster 1,649 visits to website
  • 4,851 Helpline calls, 35 Volunteers


  • Consultative Council established
  • 3,500 visits to website
  • 5,547 Helpline calls, 48 Volunteers


  • Fergal Keane OBE and Tony Adams MBE recruited as Patrons
  • Foundation Training Programme restructured
  • 8,715 visits to website
  • 7,284 Helpline calls, 69 Volunteers


  • Geraldine James OBE recruited as Patron
  • Fergal Keane presents BBC Radio 4 Appeal
  • Induction, mentoring and ongoing training programmes established
  • Helpline Protocol and Procedures established
  • Volunteering Programme extended to all areas of work
  • New poster – ‘I Get So Embarrassed When I See My Dad Drunk’
  • Poster Project – 27,000 packs despatched to Schools, FE and HE Colleges and GP Surgeries
  • 21,088 visits to website
  • 8,780 Helpline calls, 79 Volunteers


  • Poster Project leads to an increase in calls from young children
  • Establish UK Resource Database
  • Information Files for Young People, Parents, Teachers and other Professionals
  • 28,437 visits to website
  • 13,092 Helpline calls, 80 Volunteers


  • Helpline volunteer Dr I Eardley voted THA National Helpline Worker of the Year
  • CEO receives MBE and Bristol Lord Mayor’s Medal
  • Media and Research Panels established
  • 37,593 visits to website
  • 14,404 Helpline calls, 120 Volunteers


  • Nacoa receives Guardian Charity Award 2006
  • Elle Macpherson recruited as Patron
  • Early Day Motion sponsored by Janet Dean MP
  • Email helpline established
  • 82,231 visits to website
  • 346 Helpline emails, 15,242 Helpline calls, 130 Volunteers


  • Recruit and interview participants in study to find those most at risk of developing alcoholism
  • Consultancy work begins funded by Comic Relief
  • New publication – ‘Making a Difference, How You Can Help’
  • 67,902 visits to website
  • 679 Helpline emails, 18,502 Helpline calls, 154 Volunteers


  • Certificate of Merit awarded by Mentor UK
  • Lauren Booth recruited as Patron
  • Use of word ‘alcoholic’ reviewed
  • Helpline volunteer, S Rawlings voted runner up, THA Helpline Worker of the Year
  • Urban Paint Festival (Upfest) choose Nacoa as their charity partner
  • 78,783 visits to website
  • 814 Helpline emails, 37,165 Helpline calls, 196 Volunteers


  • Calum Best recruited as Patron
  • First Children of Alcoholics Week 8 to 14 February
  • CEO awarded Outstanding Achievement Award by Women of the Year
  • CEO chosen for Comic Relief’s publication ‘Inspiring Women’
  • Nacoa’s work featured on BBC Comic Relief’s Red Nose Day broadcast
  • Nacoa’s work featured on BBC Children in Need film ‘Brought up by Booze’
  • Nacoa represented at All Party Meetings on Alcohol at House of Commons
  • 77,148 visits to website
  • 972 Helpline emails, 35,537 Helpline calls, 220 Volunteers


  • Excellence in Training Award from Young Bristol
  • Second Children of Alcoholics Week 14 - 20 February
  • CEO Highly Commended in Leadership by Beacon Fellowship
  • Nacoa Facebook page established
  • Calum Best and Elle Macpherson represent Nacoa at Travolution Awards
  • Nacoa’s work featured on BBC Comic Relief’s Sports Relief broadcast
  • Nacoa’s written evidence published in House of Commons Health Committee Report
  • Nacoa chosen by Olly Barkley to benefit from The Olly Barkley Rugby Academy
  • 74,190 visits to the website
  • 1,000 Helpline emails, 20,010 Helpline calls, 293 Volunteers


  • Third UK Children of Alcoholics Week 13–19 February 2011
  • First Nacoa single ‘A change is gonna come’ with Maria McAteer and Bjorn Dahlberg, and video by Sean Caveille featuring Nacoa volunteers
  • Maya Parker speaks at the inaugural meeting of Nacoa Poland in Warsaw, Poland
  • volunteer helpline counsellor, Louise Radford, organises and recruits 52 people for the Avon Gorge Abseil, raising £11,087
  • David Yelland and Olly Barkley recruited as Patrons
  • Publish ‘An exploration of resilience among adult children of alcoholics: Impact on relationship satisfaction and desirability of control’
  • Nacoa receives Springboard Award 2011 for offering outstanding training and skills development
  • Nacoa Facebook and Twitter raise awareness
  • 76,684 visits to the website
  • 6,033 Helpline calls, 969 Helpline emails, 296 volunteers


  • Nacoa awarded The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service
  • Nacoa receives NACoA USA’s Meritorious Service Award
  • Craig Revel Horwood joins celebrity support for Fourth UK Children of Alcoholics Week 12-18 February 2012
  • Starbucks Info Pods in Bristol, Norwich and Manchester to promote COA Week
  • 69 volunteers give over 800 voluntary hours at Upfest raising awareness and £4,250
  • Piers Henriques, Cassie Ohlson, Jenny Palmer and Martin Williams attend Buckingham Palace Garden Party and Hilary Henriques attends The Jubilee Lunch at the Palace of Westminster to celebrate Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee
  • Recruit and facilitate Focus Group to participate in the Office of the Children’s Commissioner Review of Parental Alcohol Misuse
  • Nacoa welcomes visit from Children’s Commissioner, Dr Maggie Atkinson
  • Research study to analyse volunteers’ contributions post training and the wider benefits of volunteering
  • Martin Williams represents Nacoa at Reach Out Conference in Bristol, March 2012
  • Cassie and Marion Ohlson, Maya Parker, John Fenston and Tom Freeman represent Nacoa at UKESAD Conference in London, May 2012
  • Over Christmas and New Year, 8 volunteers contributed 152 hours responding to 289 calls.
  • Nacoa Facebook and Twitter continue to raise awareness
  • 76,274 visits to the website


  • Cherie Lunghi presents David Stafford Memorial Lecture
  • Geraldine James presents BBC Radio 4 Appeal
  • International Children of Alcoholics Week 10 to 16 February
  • The Archbishop of Canterbury and Nick du Bois MP add their messages of support to Nacoa and COA Week
  • Open House tea party at Nacoa to celebrate COA Week
  • HM Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Bristol and Johanna Morrell of Kids Company Bristol speak at the Volunteers Awards Evening
  • Research study produced pro bono by Dr Anne-Marie Barron ‘Nacoa and its Volunteers: The Contribution of the Nacoa Foundation Training Programme’ finds ‘Nacoa has created a community which is greater than the active volunteers delivering its current operational activities. … .Nacoa is indeed impressive for its size, and a model of good practice.’
  • New website launched, designed, created, built and maintained pro bono by Modular Digital
  • 54 volunteers contributed over 750 hours at Upfest raising £5,800
  • Nacoa volunteers take part in research study ‘ Understanding and supporting family members affected by a drug or alcohol-related death’
  • Nacoa featured as resource in Dear Zelda You Magazine and The Sun, Dear Deidre
  • Nacoa Facebook raises awareness, 1,205 Followers
  • Nacoa Twitter raises awareness, 834 Followers
  • Helpline receives 13,371 calls and 1,604 + emails
  • Nacoa works with 313 Volunteers


  • Fire destroys meeting and training room, server and network in January
  • Nacoa Helpline continues to respond to calls with no break in service
  • Schools Campaign launched: Campaign packs to Wales, Scotland and N Ireland
  • New leaflet ‘Some mums and dads’ and new booklet ‘Information for Teachers’ booklet published
  • Sixth ‘Children of Alcoholics Week’, 9 to 15 February 2014
  • Recruited volunteers to participate in new study ‘Life histories, families and alcoholism’
  • Media coverage on BBC Radio Jersey, BBC Radio Gloucester, BBC West Midlands and interviews in The Daily Mail, The Mail on Sunday, The Spark and Bella Magazine
  • Jeremy Irvine completes lone channel swim raising over £10,000 and interviewed in Watford Observer and My Watford News
  • Nacoa volunteers win Voscur’s ‘Volunteer team of the year Award’
  • New premises found at Trelawney House
  • Outreach work includes Alcohol Awareness Day at HMP Send, the Public Policy Exchange event Child and Adolescent Health and Wellbeing: Addressing the Hidden Harm Caused by Parental Alcohol Misuse and the Young Philanthropists panel ‘highlighting the effect of problem drinking at Christmas on the family, and what needs to be done to stop it’ broadcast worldwide by +SocialGood, a project of the UN Foundation
  • Nacoa Facebook raises awareness, 1,400 Followers
  • Nacoa Twitter raises awareness, 924 Followers
  • Helpline receives 17,907 calls and 2,667 + emails
  • Nacoa works with 343 Volunteers


  • Calum Best enters Celebrity Big Brother House saying he is famous for being the child of an alcoholic
  • Seventh COA Week 8 to 14 February
  • Outreach work includes St Mungo’s Action Week Parliamentary Reception, Action on Addiction Research Seminar, Recovery Plus and Intervention Plus conference
  • On 5 May 2015, Nacoa celebrates 25 years responding to over 250,000 helpline calls
  • Nacoa featured with Calum Best, Evening Post
  • Interview with Calum and Hilary featured on Evening Post, Daily Mail and Daily Mirror websites
  • Jeremy Irvine and Alderman Peter Main speak at Volunteers Awards Evening
  • 2015 Independent’s Happy List includes Hilary Henriques for her work at Nacoa and for making the world a happier place!
  • 25 hour Yogathons run concurrently in Bristol and London celebrating Nacoa 25 year anniversary
  • Upfest celebrating our 8th year as Charity Partner
  • Nacoa regularly featured as resource for children of alcoholics in Dear Deidre column in The Sun
  • Nacoa helpline advertised pro bono by Medical Connections on over 1,000 GP appointment cards
  • The Right Honourable Liam Byrne MP visits Nacoa office and pledges help and support
  • Early Day Motion 750 sponsored by Liam Byrne asking for services for children of alcoholics
  • Liam Byrne addresses Ministers and MPs at Westminster Hall calling for support for children of alcoholics
  • Liam Byrne recognises Nacoa as a resource for children of alcoholics on the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme, ITV Evening News, ITV Good Morning and in The Sun, The Daily Mirror, The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Times and The Guardian
  • Liam Byrne asks us to ‘Forget fighting demons. We must learn how to talk properly about alcoholism’
  • 25 year Anniversary Gala with special guests, HM Vice-Lord Lieutenant of Bristol Dr Timothy Chambers, The Lord Mayor Councillor Clare Campion-Smith, Liam Byrne MP and Ms Cherie Lunghi
  • Nacoa Facebook raises awareness, 2,004 Followers
  • Nacoa Twitter raises awareness, 1,251Followers
  • Helpline receives 31,133 calls and 1,205 emails
  • Nacoa works with 375 Volunteers
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