‘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.
Carol Fawsitt, Marion Rackard and Barbara Whelan.
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 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 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.
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.