Alcohol Action Ireland has today (17.01.19) launched a new initiative to raise awareness of the experience of growing up in Ireland with parental alcohol misuse. Called Silent Voices, it aims to end the silence of this experience, by promoting an understanding of the adverse impacts of parental alcohol misuse on the lives of children, including children who are now adults. It also plans – through engagement with existing services providers – to secure supports for those who have lived, or are living, with parental alcohol misuse.
The driving force behind Alcohol Action Ireland’s Silent Voices initiative are three women who experienced parental alcohol misuse as children: Carol Fawsitt, Marion Rackard and Barbara Whelan. Speaking at today’s launch, Carol Fawsitt, who is also Chair of Alcohol Action Ireland, said: “Parental alcohol misuse – and its negative impacts on children – is something that rarely gets an airing or acknowledgement in Irish society. Many of us – from all walks of life – have grown up under a shadow of alcohol misuse. The harms and negative impacts of growing up under this shadow can manifest themselves in different ways, but especially at a time of life change, such as a family bereavement, redundancy or pregnancy. It’s my experience that life change with a backdrop of parental alcohol misuse can take its toll, and services – such as counselling – often don’t recognise the link between parental alcohol misuse and trauma in adult children.
“For adult children, our message is this: if you are experiencing trauma in your life, seek help and don’t be afraid to do so. It is our experience – as the instigators of Silent Voices – that by seeking help, many latent fears and coping mechanisms adopted in childhood can be addressed with significant personal benefits.”
Alcohol Action Ireland estimates that approximately 400,000 people in Ireland today are adult children from alcohol-impacted families. Recent data from the HSE’s ‘The Untold Story’ indicates that today approximately 200,000 young children are likely experiencing Hidden Harm – living with and impacted by parental alcohol misuse.
Ms Fawsitt added: “For service providers, a greater recognition of parental alcohol misuse harm is critical. Over the coming years, Silent Voices wants to grow awareness of alcohol harm to others, through direct engagement with practitioners and service providers, so that the harm can be more easily recognised and discussed. Critically, we will be engaging with national sign-posting services so that those seeking help can be clear about what service to contact, and what help they can expect.
“For children growing up, we hope that greater recognition of the impact of alcohol harm across services can ensure that young people don’t fall through the net, as many in previous generations have. By opening a conversation and recognising the harms of parental alcohol misuse, we hope that teachers, youth leaders and family members will become more vigilant and become aware of who to reach out to when an intervention is required.”
Ahead of the launch of Silent Voices, Alcohol Action Ireland has instigated outreach to HSE services and emotional support helplines, alerting them to the potential of increased enquiries about support from people who have experienced harm caused by parental alcohol misuse.
The keynote address at today’s launch was given by BBC News Africa Editor, Fergal Keane, who has written and spoken about his experience of growing up in a household with parental alcohol misuse. He said: “As someone who experienced parental alcohol misuse while growing up, I am delighted that Alcohol Action Ireland has launched the Silent Voices initiative, which will start a conversation and foster a better understanding of what I believe is a deep societal issue with alcohol. For those who know the loneliness, the confusion and pain that can come from being the child where parental alcohol misuse is a pattern in their life, Silent Voices will be a vital resource: it will tell people that they are not alone.”
Dr Sharon Lambert from the Department of Applied Psychology at University College Cork said: “Studies have shown that living with a parent who abuses substances can have an adverse impact on a child’s later-life physical and mental health. Misusing alcohol may result in a parent not being able to provide the emotional or physical care required for young children. The worry or anxiety experienced by a child in this situation may result in behavioural or emotional issues, the cause for which teachers and care-givers are unable to identify and therefore may dismiss as bad behaviour rather than recognise that a child is struggling. Well-informed education and healthcare professionals are vital to buffer the impact of parental problem drinking on children.
“Growing up in a home where alcohol was misused can have a life-long impact on people. To address the risk this kind of childhood can pose for adult wellbeing, we must be informed and provide appropriate supports so that those experiencing related stress can lead healthy adult lives. The Silent Voices initiative seeks to do this.”
In addition to its focus on service provision to help to support people who have been impacted by parental alcohol misuse, Alcohol Action Ireland – through Silent Voices – aims to stimulate a conversation in families, workplaces and among friends on the issue. To support this, it will be gathering and publishing anonymised stories from people who have grown up with parental alcohol misuse. These stories are being published at: www.alcoholireland.ie/silent-voices/shared-voices.
Notes to editors:
About Alcohol Action Ireland
Alcohol Action Ireland is a non-governmental agency which acts as an expert independent voice for policy change on alcohol-related issues, advocating to reduce levels of alcohol harm in Ireland and improve public health, safety and wellbeing. It campaigns for the burden of alcohol harm to be lifted from the individual, community and State, and it has a strong track record in advocacy, campaigning and policy research. Its work involves providing information on alcohol-related issues, creating awareness of alcohol-related harm and offering policy solutions with the potential to reduce that harm, with an emphasis on the implementation of the Public Health (Alcohol) Act, 2018.
About Silent Voices
Silent Voices is an initiative of Alcohol Action Ireland that aims to end the silence of the experience of growing up with parental alcohol misuse in Ireland by promoting an understanding of the adverse impacts of parental alcohol misuse on the lives of children, including children who are now adults, and working to enhance supports to those who have lived, or are living, with parental alcohol misuse. The driving force behind Silent Voices are three women, each of whom experienced parental alcohol misuse as children. They are: Carol Fawsitt, Marion Rackard and Barbara Whelan.
The vision of Silent Voices is one of a society where no person impacted by parental alcohol misuse will be left unsupported. Silent Voices is administratively supported and advised by the offices of Alcohol Action Ireland and its executive. Dedicated, private donations are funding specific launch/start-up costs.