An estimated 71,000 children in Ireland are taking care of a parent or siblings as a result of parental alcohol problems, Alcohol Action Ireland (AAI) has said.
The national charity for alcohol-related issues is calling on the government to remember these ‘hidden carers' and take the necessary steps to improve their lives.
"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," explained AAI director, Fiona Ryan.
She pointed out that due to the nature of alcohol problems in families, the reality of these children's lives can remain hidden, while their needs can remain 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," Ms Ryan said.
She noted that UK figures put the number of young carers looking after someone with a substance misuse problem at around one in four, however this is liable to be an underestimation.
The charity highlighted this issue as part of National Carers Week, which runs until June 19.
"National Carers Week aims to raise awareness of the important and often unrecognised role which family carers play in society. Young carers are among the most vulnerable and children in this situation because of parental alcohol problems are particularly vulnerable due to the secrecy and shame attached to these problems," Ms Ryan said.
She added that the government now has a chance ‘to make a real impact' on the lives of the thousands of children affected by their parent's drinking problems.
She called on the government to consider the following 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, however 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.
For more information on AAI, click here
For more information on National Carers Week, click here
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