Parental alcohol problems can and do cause serious harm to children. One in eleven children say their parent’s drinking has a negative effect on their lives – that works out at about 109,684 children – Alcohol Action Ireland is campaigning to have the rights and needs of these children recognised and met.
Reducing the harm experienced by these children needs to become a policy priority – this can be achieved by developing an Action Plan, similar to the Hidden Harm strategy and Action Plan in Northern Ireland. Hidden Harm is a term used to describe the lives of children and young people affected by parental drug and alcohol problems.
These children can suffer in silence; their circumstances are often not known to services; they often do not know where to turn for help; and the impact of their parents’ substance misuse has a deep and long-lasting impact on their lives, which may not fully emerge until young adulthood and beyond. [i]
The Action Plan would provide clarity and direction, supporting an integrated and coherent response across services and sectors to children and families affected by parental alcohol problems, ultimately ensuring that their needs are met.
For a child, parental drinking can shape their every moment from the time they wake up to the time they go to bed. Will Mam drink or Dad drink today? What mood will they be in? Will I go to bed hungry? Or will they be so hung-over that I have to wash my own school uniform even though I’m only 10 years old?
A child can take on the role of parent in the family, making sure brothers and sisters are fed, getting them dressed and out to school. In the most severe cases, a family situation can deteriorate to the extent where children are sexually, emotionally or physically abused or neglected – dirty nappies going unchanged, children going without regular meals.
Not every child living with parental alcohol problems will experience the same degree of harm – a stable adult making sure the comforting family routines of bedtimes and mealtimes are followed can make a huge difference to a child’s life.
Children, however, already facing challenges such as poverty, domestic abuse and mental illness, as well as parental alcohol problems, can face an almost insurmountable range of challenges.
[i] PHA/HSBC Hidden Harm Action Plan: Responding to the Needs of Children Born to and Living with Parental Alcohol and Drug Misuse in Approved by DHSSPS October 2009