Alcohol charity urges ‘hidden child carers’ to be remembered during National Carers Week (13-19 June)

Estimated 71,000 children in Ireland taking care of a parent or siblings due to parental alcohol problems

Alcohol Action Ireland, the national charity for alcohol-related issues, has called on the Government to remember the “hidden carers” – the thousands of children caring for siblings and parents due to parental alcohol problems and take the necessary steps to improve these children’s lives.

Speaking during National Carers Week, Alcohol Action Ireland Director Fiona Ryan said:   “There are a significant number of children in Ireland today living with alcohol-dependent parents. These children have had to take on the role of carer to their younger siblings and parents. In families where there are alcohol problems, the role of child and parent can be reversed, with the child taking on an inappropriate level of responsibility. It can mean a child having to ensure their younger siblings are fed, dressed, safe and going to school.

“Due to the nature of alcohol problems in families, the reality of these children’s lives can remain hidden and their needs and the needs of their families unrecognised and unmet. In terms of numbers, we know that one in 11 children say their life is negatively impacted by parental alcohol problems: an estimated 71,000 children will be taking responsibility for a parent or younger sibling as a result of their parents’ drinking.”

Meanwhile, UK figures put the number of young carers looking after someone with a substance misuse problem at around one in four – and this is liable to be an underestimation.

Ms Ryan said: “National Carers Week aims to raise awareness of the important and often unrecognised role which family carers play in society. Young carers are amongst the most vulnerable and children in this situation because of parental alcohol problems are particularly vulnerable due to the secrecy and shame attached to their family alcohol problems.

“The Government has a chance to make a real impact on the lives of the thousands of children who are often living lives of quiet desperation filled with conflict, chaos and worry. The National Substance Misuse Strategy provides an opportunity to recognise the reality of children affected by parental alcohol problems and make the necessary recommendations that will improve these children’s chances of being seen, heard and getting the help they and their families need.”

Ms Ryan urged the Government to consider the following five steps:

Five Steps

  • Carry out a prevalence study to determine the extent of the problem across the population
  • Resource and train staff interacting with children in a professional capacity, on the impact of parental substance misuse on children and families
  • Identify supports and services that can be delivered to children in their own right – parents with alcohol problems may be reluctant to avail of support or help; children should have the right to access this help or support in order to reduce the impact of parental alcohol problems on their lives. Services could include helplines, in-school counselling, therapeutic support and emergency accommodation
  • Introduce a minimum price for alcohol – a floor price below which alcohol cannot be sold
  • Curb availability and accessibility and regulate the promotion of alcohol – alcohol is a controlled substance but it is sold like an ordinary grocery

Notes to the Editor:

 · Alcohol Action Ireland’s Keeping it in the Family Survey 2009 (carried out by Behaviour and Attitudes) was the first ever national research survey carried out among adults to gauge their experiences of parental alcohol use during their childhood. The survey found that:

  • The equivalent of 71,000 Irish adults said they often had to take responsibility for a parent or a sibling as a result of parental drinking

 · According to the recent ISPCC National Children’s Consultation Survey of almost 10,000 children, one in 11 children said their parents’ alcohol use has a negative impact on their lives. This amounts to more than 100,000 children.

Children in the ISPCC report provided insights into living with a parent with an alcohol problem:

“They care more about drink than their children”
“They waste the money that is needed for essentials on drink sometimes
“It worries me; I can’t get on with my life as I am taking care of my mum”
“I have to mind my sister while my mother looks for my father in the pub”
ou feel invisible”

  • UK research has put the figure of young carers looking after someone with a substance misuse problem at around one in four and this is liable to be an under-estimation (The Loughborough University Young Carer Research Group/ The Princess Royal Trust for Carers)

For further information or comment contact:
Alcohol Action Ireland Communications Officer Cathy Gray (01) 878 0610/ 087 995 0186