200,000 children impacted by parents' drinking

Can have major long-term consequences
  • Deborah Condon

An estimated 200,000 children in Ireland are adversely impacted by their parents' misuse of alcohol, Alcohol Action Ireland (AAI) has warned.

The independent organisation that works to reduce alcohol-related harm has published a paper focusing on the issue of problem alcohol use among parents and the impact this can have on children during their school years.

Problem alcohol use is referred to as an adverse childhood experience (ACE) and according to the paper, ACEs can cause toxic stress, which can harm a child's development and have long-term implications for overall physical and mental health.

The paper estimates that 200,000 children are currently affected by parental alcohol use, while a further 400,000 adult children are living with the consequences - that equates to 12% of Ireland's population.

Through its initiative 'Silent Voices', AAI has been working to end the silence that often surrounds the impact of parental alcohol misuse. It aims to ensure that the right supports are available to affected children, as well as adults who grew up in such homes.

The paper includes an analysis of stories and interviews gathered via Shared Voices, and makes recommendations aimed at those working in the education sector, including teachers.

AAI insists that schools "must become a place that recognises young people's trauma, and teachers and schools must be supported to nurture trauma-informed environments".

"Growing up in a home with parental problem alcohol use has been recognised internationally as an adverse childhood experience for over 20 years. If the problem in the family is not addressed, children can develop unhealthy roles that can carry into adulthood and other relationships, continuing patterns of behaviour that can have negative consequences," explained AAI chief executive, Dr Sheila Gilheany.

She emphasised that schools "can be a safe haven" and educators are "extremely well placed" to identify children who may be experiencing harm as a result of their parents' drinking.

According to Dr Sharon Lambert of University College Cork and a member of the advisory group to the Silent Voices initiative, school-based approaches aimed at tackling trauma have been developed in many countries. However currently, there are "no trauma-aware frameworks or resources to support schools in Ireland".

"The provision of training in relation to trauma-aware approaches and ACEs should be implemented at teacher training level, and at all levels of professional development - from teachers and principals to education welfare officers, SNAs and administrative staff," she commented.

AAI's paper, Parental Problem Alcohol Use and Education, can be viewed in full here.



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