Who Silent Voices are

Foundation of Silent Voices

In Ireland, over a generation, since the early 1960’s, our total consumption of alcohol (everyone above 15 years old) has increased nearly threefold, from 4.9 litres per capita in 1960 to a peak of 14.3 litres in 2001. The median plateau commencing from the late 1970’s through to the early years of the new century.


Working within the dataset of the National Alcohol Diary Survey (Ireland:2013), the Health Research Board (2016) stated that more than half (54%) of drinkers were classified as harmful drinkers; when the proportion of survey respondents who were classified as harmful drinkers is applied to the population, this equates with between 1.3 and 1.4 million harmful drinkers.


With increased awareness of alcohol related harms, Alcohol Action Ireland and other aligned organisations, supported by public health and social science researchers, have sought to examine the impact of such harms on children, past and present, and to understand the scale of the issue.


A substantial body of literature over the last two decades indicates a recurring trend within the lives of our children, that speaks to somewhere between 1 in 6 or 7 children continue to suffer the unnecessary impact of alcohol related harms and experience a life conditioned by someone else’s choices.


Given the prolonged historical trend in alcohol consumption that accelerated from the late 1970’s, spiking in the early 2000s, it is reasonable to extrapolate that there is a cohort of Adults today who experienced significant alcohol related harms as children, and who today, continue to carry the effects of such trauma. Our population of those under 49 (born 1970) and over 18, stands at just over 2 million, so adopting the 2009 indicator – 1 in 7 finding, it could be assessed that 286,000 adults today face the challenges of overcoming their personal trauma alone.


Taking an over 50 but under 75 cohort, a population of 1.182 million, and applying the 2010 data – 1 in 10 (mindful of then lower consumption data), this impacted group grows by a further 118,000. This would indicate that approximately 400,000 people in Ireland today are Adult Children from Alcohol impacted families.


In the current reality and adopting the 2018 data – 1 in 6 finding, it is likely that over 200,000 children, today, are living with the traumatic circumstances of a childhood arrested by alcohol related harms and within families where parental alcohol misuse is a frequent event. These Adult Children of our immediate past and the Children impacted today, are largely voiceless in our society, hidden behind a wall of stigma and isolation, unsure of their hopes and uncertain of their futures.


In recognition of this reality, and the challenges this vulnerable group of people face, Alcohol Action Ireland have commenced a new initiative called ‘Silent Voices .


For further information email: silentvoices@alcoholactionireland.ie


Alcohol Action Ireland is currently funded through a mix of public and private funding, including charitable foundations and individual donations. Our principal funder is currently the Health Service Executive (HSE).

Who We Are & What We Do

Silent Voices has been fostered by three individuals who experienced parental problem alcohol use growing up.  The emotional trauma of this experience is significant and, for many complex reasons, is a situation very few people feel able to speak about.


When we don’t speak out it remains hidden. Those in the situation may feel isolated, unable to seek help and wondering if this is an experience that is unique to them.


This isolation facilitates a lack of recognition of the impact of parental problem alcohol use and consequently, limits the supports available to children, both past and present, dealing with the emotional trauma.


Everyone in Ireland has an alcoholic in the family’ – the prevalence of alcohol use in Ireland means this common assertion is very real to many.


The acceptance of this issue reflects the reality of the high levels of harmful drinking in Ireland and the tolerance of this behaviour as harmless (other than to the individual).  This is not the experience of those who have lived with or grown up with alcohol harm in the family.


Silent Voices aims to break the peculiarly Irish taboo on discussing the impact of harmful drinking on children. It aims to ensure the right supports are available to children today coping with parental problem alcohol use – and those adults dealing with the impact of a childhood trauma in later life.


Silent Voices aims to support and not to judge. It will work to increase recognition of this issue and work to reduce its incidence through greater advocacy, better education, and the enhancement of existing services to meet the needs of those who are living or have lived with parental problem alcohol use.

Founding Voices

Carol Fawsitt, Marion Rackard and Barbara Whelan.

Carol Fawsitt

Carol Fawsitt is a Consultant Solicitor. Carol qualified as a Solicitor in 1980 and established her own niche practice, Fawsitt Solicitors, in 1987 specialising in Employment Law. In 2006, her practice merged with Hayes solicitors, where Carol was a Senior Partner and Head of the Employment Law Department in Hayes until 2014.


Carol has lectured to the Law Society and was a Tutor to the Society’s Law School on Employment Law. Carol is a founding member of the Employment Law Association of Ireland (ELAI) and was Chair of the Association (2010-15).


In 2000, she was appointed by the President of the High Court as a Member of the Disciplinary Tribunal of the High Court for Solicitors, and chaired divisions of the Tribunal until 2010. She was Chairman of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal (2004–07) and a Board Member of ASH Ireland –the lobby group for action on smoking and health (1996-2014). She has been a Board Member of the Equality Authority and chaired its Legal Committee (1998 – 2007), the National Economic and Social Council (NESC) 1995-1997, the former Employment Equality Agency, Vice-Chairwoman of the National Women’s Council of Ireland (1995-97), Vice-Chairwoman of Network, the Organisation for Women in Business in Ireland, Chairwoman of the Society of Young Solicitors and Director of Archways, an organisation formed to advance the Incredible Years Programme and other evidence-based programmes to assist children and adolescents with emotional and behavioural difficulties.


In 2016, Carol was appointed a Member of the Charity Appeals Tribunal, and is currently Chair of Alcohol Action Ireland, amongst other directorships.

Carol grew up in a home where there was parental alcohol misuse and wants the trauma of living in such a home as a child recognised, and early interventionist steps taken, to help children access appropriate services and supports. She believes such childhood trauma leads to silence, shame, stigma and damage, and that the Silent Voices initiative is an opportunity to have this trauma recognised.


Carol loves time spent with family and having the craic; enjoys music, reading, walking and most things Italian.

Marion Rackard

Marion Rackard has worked as an addiction counsellor and psychotherapist in a variety of areas within the HSE related to alcohol prevention, advocacy, treatment and trauma, for over thirty years.


Marion was a founding member of Alcohol Action Ireland and held the position of chairperson and CEO in the early years and has been a consistent advocate for an independent voice challenging an insidious and tolerant culture of alcohol related harm.


She was Project Manager for the Substance Misuse Strategy in HSE Social Inclusion where she was chair of the National Addiction Training Programme (2008-2015). Within that period she was co-Chair with Tusla National Policy Development Manager of the National Hidden Harm Steering Group a project which delivered a Strategic Statement and Practice Guide for practitioners in Tusla and HSE Addiction Services on the impact of parental substance misuse on children.


More recently, Marion has played an important role as Project Manager to the HSE Alcohol Programme, whose principal achievements to date have been the development of the askaboutalcohol.ie website, and public campaigns that encourage reflection and consideration of the many harms both physical, mental and emotional caused, or contributed to, by alcohol.


As a professional, and reflecting on her own personal experience of growing up with such a parent, Marion has been acutely aware of the silent stress related psychological symptoms including powerlessness experienced by family members living with parental alcohol misuse. The child, the adolescent and the adult can experience certain challenges and deficits such as an absence or a loss of a sense of self leading to mental health difficulties.


Her main wish and goal for Silent Voices is that each person who so desires, is afforded an opportunity to safely talk about their struggles and pain. Improvement in mental and emotional health and wellbeing can enable people to live more self directed lives rather than one influenced by the toxic stress of the legacy of problem drinking.


Marion enjoys time with family and friends, sharing great conversations and most especially a good laugh and also sings in a choir. She is a fluent French speaker and is passionate for “la douce France”. Enjoys travel, nature, reading and walking with her dog Luna!

Barbara Whelan

Barbara Whelan practised as a solicitor for 26 years and completed a degree in theology as a mature student. She has written many articles for the Dominican journal Doctrine and Life and is the author of a children’s French-English bilingual book Nathalie et les Tournesols/Nathalie and the Sunflowers. She is a long-time contributor to RTÉ Radio 1’s early morning programmes A Living Word and A Word in Edgeways.


Barbara grew up in a home where there was parental alcohol misuse and has experienced anxiety and depression throughout her life. Some years back, in discovering a book about children of alcoholics, Barbara began to realise where the roots of her own mental ill-health might lie; armed with that knowledge, she finally found the professional help that she needed. She is a long-time practitioner of Mindfulness meditation, which helps her to stay well and to lead a happier life.


Barbara is passionate about the need to widen the conversation around the problem we have, as a society, with alcohol and to amplify the voice of those who grew up with parental alcohol misuse, and who live with that legacy. Above all, she hopes Silent Voices will become a voice for those who currently have no voice – the children in our midst living in the shadow of alcohol and other drug use.


Barbara loves hill-walking, enjoys reading and singing, and has a deep love of the French language. She lives with her husband in Dublin. They have four grown-up children and six much cherished grandchildren.

Honorary Patrons

Fergal Keane OBE, BBC Africa editor, and author, is the Honorary Patron of the Silent Voice initiative.

Ailbhe Smyth, long-time activist on feminist, LGBTQ and other social issues and was the founding head of Women’s Studies at UCD where she lectured for many years.

Silent Voices is guided in its work by an Advisory Group that is comprised of:

  • Three adults who have experienced parental problem alcohol
  • One Academic Adviser
  • Clinical Adviser:
  • A Board Member of AAI,
  • The CEO of AAI

What we aim to do:

  • Provide information, education and raise awareness of the impact of a parental problem alcohol and other drug use on children’s lives.
  • Enhance understanding of the specific emotional and mental health impacts of these behaviours through promoting the training of professionals, volunteers and staff of relevant agencies and by advocacy;
  • Improve services and supports for children and for adult children so impacted; we do this by research, fundraising and development of online supports.
  • Strive to prevent problem alcohol or other drug use developing in children impacted during their childhood by such use.

The Terms of Reference guiding this initiative are published here.

Carol Fawsitt: An Introduction to Silent Voices, Context and Why Now?

Growing up in a home with parental problem alcohol use has been recognised internationally as an adverse childhood experience (ACE) for over 20 years and the impact which this experience may have on the developing child and his or her outcomes in life.


Despite awareness of this experience as an adverse childhood experience leading to poor outcomes, there has been little or no progress made in Ireland to address the trauma inflicted on the child which may last well into adulthood, and even a lifetime. Parental problem alcohol use and the impact it has on children rarely gets an airing or acknowledgement in Irish society.


Alcohol Action Ireland has worked in a very contested space, for many years, but with dogged persistence we have achieved one of the most important public health initiatives in Ireland with the passing of the Public Health Alcohol Act 2018. Its work does not stop there.


Due to the silence around the harm caused by parental alcohol misuse, Silent Voices, an initiative of Alcohol Action Ireland, seeks to further open- up Ireland’s relationship with alcohol and its impact on so many lives.


Silent Voices wants to have the trauma of growing up in a home with parental alcohol misuse recognised as trauma and to give a voice to the children and the adult children impacted by this misuse with a view to making changes.


We are aiming to enhance services for children and adult children impacted by parental misuse by working in partnership with others to initiate, develop or contribute to services; invest in research; fundraise and to develop online information and literature supports.


Dedicated services for children so impacted are non-existent. Where are the trauma informed services? What is Ireland doing about the damage caused to children and adult children impacted by parental alcohol misuse? Silent Voices will help through outreach and awareness raising with services; promoting education and awareness in pedagogy; and advocating for service expansion to enable effective signposting.


There is now a considerable body of information on the developing brain of babies and young children. Early years education is accepted as important and every child’s right. But what of the child’s emotional attachment and psychological development? When trauma happens as in growing up with parental alcohol misuse, it impacts the development of the child, how the child relates to and perceives the world around through interactions with his or her parents or carers.


The child must learn to cope with the unpredictable and confusing behaviours of the problem drinker, coping skills which may not assist when the child becomes an adult. The child learns to ignore his or her own needs to survive. Everything revolves around the problem drinking parent. It is thus critical that we understand the full impact of this childhood trauma on the developing child. The body keeps score.


Trauma always needs to be expressed whether in childhood or later, as the child becomes an adolescent and ultimately an adult. If suppressed it will re-appear and perhaps in far more extreme ways, when the child grows into adulthood. Trauma shapes and moulds us when it occurs in childhood.


It is especially difficult to unlearn behaviours acquired in childhood, behaviours learnt to cope with trauma and to survive. As a child we do not understand what we are dealing with. We have no language or words to put on an event, a behaviour or an experience. We are powerless, helpless and have no control. As a child we have no voice. It is only as an adult that we can learn to understand what happened to us as a child – to understand the drinker’s sadness, distance, withdrawal and confusing behaviours – and to make sense of ourselves and why we feel as we do.


Silent Voices is about giving a voice to the lived experience of the child and adult child growing up with parental alcohol misuse, to start the conversation about this hidden harm, to help not only those affected by growing up with parental alcohol misuse but also the next generations, to put this childhood trauma on everyone’s radar.


Silent Voices is not about pointing fingers, blaming or judging parents who engage in alcohol misuse. We need to stop the cycle of damage repeating. Parents and carers of children may not be aware of the impact of their drinking behaviours on the child. Parents and carers may themselves have grown up with parental alcohol misuse in their families of origin and may never have been able to access help or support. A parent’s own unresolved trauma is at risk of being played out with their child. Through Silent Voices’ Shared Voices platform these parents, carers and the adult children who grew up with parental alcohol misuse can access real life stories to show that they are no longer alone. There is hope.


The silence, shame, stigma and secrecy of growing up with parental alcohol misuse must end. We must understand the impact on children and to comprehensively once and for all address this societal problem. There are treatment services for the drinker. But what of other family members? There are no dedicated services for children or adult children. This hidden harm never comes to light unless a crime has been committed, there is neglect in which case TUSLA intervenes or there is a crisis.


And so this hidden harm, this hidden trauma continues. As Fr Peter McVerry said in the context of a meeting on trauma convened by Jane Mulcahy in Bewleys last November – “hurt people hurt other people”. We, as a society, together with compassionate and trauma informed professionals, need to ask the question – “what happened to you?”


We ignore this question at our peril.

I can speak from experience. I am no psychologist or statistician good with numbers or an analyst. But, I am a child who grew up with parental alcohol misuse. Along with my co – founders, I can give a voice to that child and how I felt as that child.


I can attest to the lived experience, to living with the unpredictable behaviours of the adult who was drinking and the impact on the family, the fear and apprehension of what the night might bring, the constant watchfulness and being on high alert, the silences and tension in the home. I survived or thought I did.


It was only as an adult that I understood what I had been through and only then could I make sense of my experience. The harms and negative impacts of growing up with parental alcohol misuse can manifest themselves in different ways, but especially at a time of life change such as a family bereavement, redundancy or pregnancy. In my case, in the course of engaging in counselling, the counsellor recommended that I do a course for Adult Children of Alcoholics as she believed my self-esteem was “shot”.


That course helped me to understand the impact of parental alcohol misuse on me and my responses to normal life struggles. I can attest to the impact – the sense of being different to my peers, the feeling of being on the outside, the feeling of not being good enough, the feeling of inadequacy, and the “shot” self -esteem. These harms can and do last a lifetime.


Children who grow up with parental alcohol misuse often ignore and/ or do not understand their own needs. Many do not know how to take care of themselves. Some will go on to become addicts and self- harm. And so the cycle repeats…..


It is entirely predictable that the child of parental alcohol misuse will be confused about relationships, trust and feelings. The emotional and psychological needs of the child are often set at nought. These needs are secondary to alcohol and the other parent tries to cope with the consequences for the family.


As I have said Ireland has an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. The damage caused to children who grow up with parental alcohol misuse affects all walks of life. This damage is not the preserve of those who unfortunately are financially less well off or who are homeless. It affects all of us. It knows no boundaries. It is classless and affects all socio-economic and ethnic groups, races and genders. It is time to say enough is enough. It is time for the adult children of parental alcohol misuse to shatter the glass ceiling with their voices.


I am sure that there are people out there today who may not have registered that they had this childhood experience or who know they did but have never thought to link their adult struggles with relationships and life in general with parental alcohol misuse growing up.


Silent Voices is starting the conversation and drawing attention to the elephant in the room- the damage caused to children and adult children and regretfully, will, to future generations by parental alcohol misuse unless we change and make ourselves aware that this problem exists and must be addressed. Services need to be provided and must be trauma informed. Early intervention for children living with this experience is critical. Parents, professionals and all those who come into contact with children must be educated about the insidious traumatic harm caused to the developing child by parental alcohol misuse.


We in Silent Voices are using the lived experience to assist the conversation. We want to end the silence on the impact of parental alcohol misuse in Ireland. The impact of this experience on children and adult children must be heard and understood. The Voices want a society where no one impacted by parental alcohol misuse is left unsupported. We want to re-assure all those experiencing or who have experienced this childhood trauma that it is possible to come out of it with understanding for what happened and to find healing. There is hope.


The Voices commit to working on this societal problem until our aims are achieved. The silence must end. The Voices are here.


Carol Fawsitt

17th January 2019