The impact of harmful parental drinking on children in Ireland was outlined at a briefing organised by the Oireachtas Cross Party Group on Alcohol Harm in Leinster House this morning (06.07.16).
The briefing for Oireachtas members heard from Grainia Long, Chief Executive of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC); Tanya Ward, Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, and June Tinsley, Head of Advocacy at Barnardos.
Senator Frances Black, Chairperson of the Oireachtas Cross Party Group on Alcohol Harm, said that children living with parents who drink in a harmful manner are amongst the most vulnerable in society.
“The wide range of harms that are caused to children as a result of harmful drinking in the home is known as ‘hidden harm’, as the harm is not often visible in public and largely kept behind closed doors. These vulnerable children can suffer in silence, do not know where to turn for help, and the impact of harmful parental drinking has a deep and long-lasting impact on their lives.
“We need to address the impacts of parental drinking by introducing measures to protect children from alcohol harm in the home, and providing early and effective interventions when it does occur. The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill is evidence-based legislation that aims to reduce our high levels of alcohol consumption in Ireland and can therefore play a key role in helping to break the negative cycle of harmful parental drinking that causes so many problems for children.”
Grainia Long, Chief Executive of the ISPCC, said there were a number of key themes that reveal themselves where harmful parental drinking was a feature in the home. These include impacts on relationships with parents; increased stress among children; impact on enjoyment of childhood and, in severe cases of alcohol addiction in the home, neglect.
She commented: “ISPCC child support workers report support needs for children who struggle with the worry associated with parents drinking at home – whether concern for the health and safety of siblings, concern for the health of their parents, an inability to sleep because of noise or intrusion and an impact on their schooling. A smaller number of children we work with report having been verbally or physically assaulted by parents who are drunk.”
Research conducted by the ISPCC also found that where parents drink heavily, their children often disregard their advice in relation to alcohol. “Parental behaviour influences that of a child and no more so than in relation to alcohol. ISPCC support workers particularly point to seasonal/occasion related drinking as affecting children, such as around communion and confirmation time. When parents take social occasions meant for children and merge them with heavy drinking, children learn similar behaviour,” said Ms Long.
“ISPCC supports the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill as a key step in helping to change our attitude to, and relationship with, alcohol. Children and young people have repeatedly told us they want their exposure to alcohol reduced – it is our responsibility to deliver on their aspirations.”
June Tinsley, Head of Advocacy at Barnardos, said Barnardos sees children living with parents with an alcohol addiction often experiencing irregular and inconsistent parenting.
“Many underestimate the negative impact alcohol has on family functioning. While its impact varies depending on the frequency and severity of the alcohol misuse, it can result in children feeling confused and rejected by the cycle of broken promises. Older children can feel burdened by having to care for younger siblings as their parent is too unwell to conduct domestic and childcare duties effectively.
“It also can affect their school life with children of parents with chronic alcohol problems more likely to have problems at school in terms of learning difficulties, reading problems, poor concentration and generally low performance,” said Ms Tinsley.
Tanya Ward, Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, said: “Too often in Ireland, children’s lives are blighted by alcohol misuse within their families, contributing to parental addiction, financial difficulties, family breakdown, as well as neglect and abuse.
“Young people’s health is also being seriously damaged by their own drinking. We now know that the longer we can delay their age of first drink, the better, as this reduces the negative impact on their health and wellbeing, and the likelihood that they’ll go on to abuse alcohol later in life.
“We also know that alcohol marketing, including advertising and sponsorship, increases the likelihood that children will start to use and drink more alcohol. Creating an environment where children are protected from this alcohol marketing is an urgent children’s rights issue,” said Ms Ward.
The Oireachtas Cross Party Group on Alcohol Harm is an informal, all-party group, seeking to progress legislation and policy that can help reduce alcohol harm in Ireland, with a particular emphasis on the implementation of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill.
The group has been re-established following the election of the 32nd Dáil and its current members are:
- Senator Frances Black. Independent (chairperson).
- Deputy Jack Chambers, TD. Fianna Fáil.
- Senator Gerard Craughwell. Independent.
- Senator Catherine Noone. Fine Gael.
- Deputy Louise O’Reilly, TD. Sinn Féin.
- Deputy Jan O’Sullivan, TD. Labour Party.
- Deputy Anne Rabbitte, TD. Fianna Fáil.
- Senator James Reilly. Fine Gael.
- Senator Keith Swanick. Fianna Fáil.
Alcohol Action Ireland, the national charity for alcohol-related issues, acts as Secretariat for the Oireachtas Cross Party Group on Alcohol Harm.
For further information, please see the Alcohol Action Ireland statistics on children impacted by problem drinking.