Comprehensive examination into the prevalence and impact of parental alcohol problems on children urgently needed, says alcohol charity

Alcohol Action Ireland, the national charity for alcohol-related issues, says a comprehensive examination into the prevalence and impact of parental alcohol problems on children is urgently needed to establish the extent of parental alcohol-related harm to thousands of children across the country.

Speaking following the publication of the Roscommon Child Care Case, charity Director Fiona Ryan said: “While we welcome the inquiry’s findings that additional training of frontline staff on new developments and understanding of attachment theory, drug and alcohol dependency and in particular its effects on parenting and working directly with children, we believe that action speaks louder than words. We urge the Health Service Executive to carry out the recommendations in full.”

She added: “Too often we don’t see, don’t hear or chose to ignore alcohol-related harms that take place behind the front door. We need to learn from past lessons and speak on behalf of children who all too often remain hidden and unheard.

“Parental alcohol problems can, and do, have serious negative effects on the welfare and safety of the children in their care. We already know that between 61,000 and 104,000 children aged under 15 in Ireland are estimated to be living with parents who have problems with alcohol.

“There is a serious gap in the training of frontline staff in how to recognise, and respond, when parental alcohol problems might be damaging a child’s health, welfare and development, and/or putting the child at risk of abuse or neglect.

“Under the Child Care Act 1991, the HSE has a statutory duty to promote the welfare of the children not receiving adequate care and protection and to regard the welfare of the child as ‘the first and paramount consideration’.

“Despite the high levels of alcohol use in this country and the serious effects a parent’s alcohol problems can have on their children, training for frontline staff on the impact of alcohol and substance problems is often inadequate. Assessments of those with alcohol and/or drug problems needs to include an assessment of the impact of their drug and/or alcohol problems on their children.

“While training tends to treat the impact of parental alcohol and substance problems as a peripheral matter, parental alcohol and substance problems play a major role in child protection and welfare issues.”

A recent Irish survey on the impact of parental drinking among 18-40 year olds found that when both parents drank weekly or more often:

  • 14% said they often felt afraid or unsafe as a result of their parents’ drinking
  • 14% said they often witnessed conflict between their parents either when they were drinking or as a result of their drinking
  • 11% said they often had to take responsibility for a parent or a sibling
  • Impact of parental drinking did not differ according to socio-economic class

  (Behaviour& Attitudes Keeping it in the Family Survey, 2009, commissioned by Alcohol Action Ireland)

Ms Ryan added: “The harmful impact that parental alcohol problems can have on children is an issue that has been neglected for too long. We need to address the gaps in resources and knowledge on the extent and nature of a problem which at this very moment is affecting thousands of our children.”


Notes to the Editor:

  • The impact of parental alcohol problems is a key factor in child protection and welfare. Health Services Executive statistics on the primary reason as to why children come into State care show that 14% children at the end of 2007 were in care as a result of a ‘family member abusing drugs/alcohol’. However, the statistics do not break down the category and the figures are likely to be an underestimate.
  • For example, approximately 70% children in care in Northern Ireland are in the care of the state as a direct result of parental substance problems. The estimated total cost for children in care in Northern Ireland as a result of parental substance problems is  £62m per year for 1,700 children

For further information or comment contact:

Alcohol Action Ireland Communications Officer Cathy Gray (01) 878 0610/ 087 995 0186