National Carers Week: but what about the ‘hidden child carers’?

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An estimated 71,000 children in Ireland are taking care of a parent or siblings due to parental alcohol problems.

Speaking during National Carers Week, Alcohol Action Ireland, the national charity for alcohol-related issues, called on the Government to remember these “hidden carers” and take the necessary steps to improve these children’s lives.

Charity 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