ChildLinks Issue 3: Parental Alcohol Misuse

Barnardos. (2009). ChildLinks Issue 3: Parental Alcohol Misuse.
Media focus on the abuse of alcohol in Ireland is too often focused on underage drinking to the neglect of the problem of parental alcohol misuse, which is the theme of this edition of ChildLinks. One of the common messages across all of the articles presented is the hidden nature of this ‘hidden harm’. Dr Shane Butler highlights the multi dimensional impact of parental alcohol problems, which consists not only of alcohol dependence but also a variety of related difficulties including marital disharmony, financial pressures, family violence, child neglect and inconsistent parenting, all of which have a negative impact on children. Health and Social Services have great difficulty responding to problem drinkers and the challenge of bridging the gap between addiction services and child welfare is still at an early stage of development. It is estimated that alcohol misuse is a factor in at least 25% of child protection caseloads. From Barnardos’ experience working with families affected by harmful alcohol use, children living in these families often present many difficulties which can be far reaching and can have long-term implications for a child’s life both in childhood and in adulthood. Multiple layers of support are needed to help children and families dealing with addiction. Services need to be properly resourced and co-ordinated to ensure multi-agency, effective early intervention systems. As Wendy Robinson points out in her article on approaches from the UK experience, workers and agencies across all disciplines need to be more pro-active in their approach to children and adults with alcohol problems, and to work collaboratively for the benefit of families. Insights gained from the experience of the Hopscotch project which works with children living with parental alcohol misuse are explored in an article from Barnardos. At a policy level it is interesting to learn from the experience of Northern Ireland who are working to implement an Action Plan for drug misuse and alcohol misuse under the ‘Hidden Harm’ framework. The National Substance Misuse Strategy 2009-2016, which includes alcohol policies, presents a key opportunity to address the needs of children and families in a vital area.