Irish Examiner- Alcohol-related neglect affects 100,000 children

At least 100,000 children across the country are suffering neglect as a direct result of their parents’ alcohol problems – with a shocking one in six child abuse cases linked to the condition.

New figures revealed by Alcohol Action Ireland (AAI) show children continue to be the silent victims of the long-standing national problem.

According to the group, which released the survey findings to mark Children of Alcoholics Week, one in every 11 children under the age of 16 are being neglected because of alcohol abuse within their family.

This figure is based on almost 10,000 responses to the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children’s (ISPCC) national children’s consultation survey.

A large section of the neglect relates to issues such as not having clean clothes, school lunches or children “having to be mam or dad” to their siblings because their own parents are not capable of this responsibility.

However, it also includes issues like physical and sexual abuse – with the survey suggesting that one in six child abuse cases is directly linked to alcohol problems.

“Parental alcohol problems can and do have a serious impact on a child’s welfare and safety,” warned AAI director Fiona Ryan.

“As a society we deny or ignore the impact of parental problems on children, yet these children are often leading lives of quiet desperation, unseen and unheard.

“They get our attention only when the most extreme cases come to light.

“We prefer to think of these as isolated incidents, but the reality is that currently one in 11 children tell us their parents’ drinking has a negative impact on their lives.”

Highlighting the fact alcohol abuse has failed to be addressed in Ireland for decades, she added: “When adults were asked about parental alcohol use during their childhood, one in 14 said they frequently felt afraid or unsafe as children, with one in 12 witnessing alcohol-related parental conflict.”

In an attempt to address the situation, the AAI has called on the next government to carry out a national survey of all households to clarify the extent of the problem.

The group is also seeking extra funding for social workers and other staff working with children facing these difficulties, to curb the availability of alcohol and to strictly regulate its promotion.

According to EU figures, as many as nine million children in the free-market bloc are affected by family alcohol abuse, a significant number of whom are also victims of violence and other physical abuse.

The AAI survey findings emerged after the World Health Organisation (WHO) said alcohol abuse is the cause of more deaths worldwide than Aids, tuberculosis or non-related violence.

The United Nations’ funded group’s Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health said up to 2.5 million die from alcohol abuse every year, the equivalent of 4% of all global deaths.

Despite these sobering findings, the health body found alcohol-control policies are weak and remain a low priority for most governments despite the heavy toll drinking takes on society.

Source: Irish Examiner, 15.02.11
Journalist: Fiachra Ó Cionnaith