We have to talk about the trauma to our children

  • Post category:Blog

There has been much talk of the issues arising from Covid-19 and the measures we are collectively taking to mitigate its impact. Of particular concern to Alcohol Action Ireland are the likely 200,000 children confined in homes where parental alcohol misuse is a frequent source of trauma and who are now cut off from their normal supports of school, sports, clubs and friends. The recent insight from the Social Impact of COVID-19 Survey by the CSO, highlights that respondents living in households with children had the highest proportion reporting an increase in alcohol consumption (27.3%).


For some using alcohol as a coping mechanism can mean a numbing of emotions and perhaps not being as aware of the needs of children, while in other homes there will be neglect of physical needs and possibly conflict.  For many children the overwhelming emotion is one of fear: fear for the wellbeing of the adults in their lives, fear of the unpredictable, fear for their own or siblings safety.


Concern has been expressed by Tusla’s CEO, that with schools closed there is a reduction in the number of referrals to its services. The Child Care Law Reporting Project has observed that creative ways are needed to ensure children do not remain invisible for an extended period of time.


So, what can we do? From the personal stories gathered by our Silent Voices initiative we know that this Hidden Harm is often hiding in plain sight. In many families a grandparent, an aunt, a cousin might already have a niggle of worry. Our One Kind Word social media campaign has been encouraging friends and relatives to act on that niggle and to reach out.

Listening to and letting a vulnerable child know they are not invisible can go a long way to easing isolation. Topping up phone credit, or lending an unwanted laptop, to make sure they can keep in touch can be a practical way to help.


Growing up with parental alcohol misuse is recognised as an adverse children experience. Research shows it will increase the likelihood of poor physical and mental health in later life. Our analysis estimates that 400,000 adults in Ireland are living with the impact of this childhood trauma.


What must Ireland do? This period of isolation will not last forever and now is the time to plan for the public health resources and services which will be needed for the likely increased demand after the Covid-19 pandemic passes.


Ireland’s primary care services will need to:

  • Resource a dedicated helpline for children and adult children affected by parental alcohol misuse.
  • Investment in psychology services to meet the needs of both children and adults.
  • Incentivise services working with children and families, including educational and criminal justice services, to become trauma-informed embedding the concept of trauma-informed services at all levels.
  • Ensure there is public discourse, informed by national awareness campaigns, on the right to a childhood free from alcohol harm.

Furthermore, we need a commitment from the new Irish Government that frontline public services starting with mental health, addiction, homeless and criminal justice become trauma-informed. Schools too must become a place that recognises young people’s trauma and teachers must be supported to nurture trauma-informed environments.

(Read our full trauma position paper here.)


It’s often said that governments should never waste the opportunity a crisis presents. This current crisis will endure in the lives of many but by taking decisive action now to alleviate that trauma we can ensure better outcomes.


Dr Sheila Gilheany, CEO, Alcohol Action Ireland.