Home > Children’s exposure to risks from parental drinking.

Mongan, Deirdre (2012) Children’s exposure to risks from parental drinking. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 40, Winter 2011, p. 26.

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 A recent report, Hidden realities: children’s exposure to risks from parental drinking in Ireland,1 examined the impact of hazardous and harmful use of alcohol on children, in particular in the north west of Ireland. This was done by analysing general population surveys and agency records, and interviewing family support services. 

Main findings
General population survey
The National Drinking Surveys of 2006 and 2010 were combined for this analysis, which gave a total sample of 2,011 adults aged 18 years and over. Over half of all adult drinkers who had children living in their household engaged in regular hazardous drinking (defined as consuming the equivalent of four pints of beer or one bottle of wine or seven spirits in one sitting at least once a month). When these figures are applied to the national population, approximately 271,000 children aged under 15 years are exposed to risk from hazardous drinking by parents. One in seven (14%) adults reported that they had experienced family problems as a result of someone else’s drinking, which equates to approximately 449,000 families negatively affected by alcohol. Family problems were reported more often by women, those under 35 years and those in the lower social class.
The 2010 survey also contained questions that measured children’s exposure to neglect or abuse because of someone else’s drinking. These questions were asked of respondents who had parental or guardianship responsibility. One in ten adults reported that children for whom they had parental responsibility had, as a result of someone else’s drinking, experienced one or more of the following harms: verbal abuse, physical abuse, witnessing violence in the home, or being left in unsafe situations. Harms were reported more often by parents who engaged in regular hazardous drinking and by those in the lower social class. 
National Drug Treatment Reporting System
For the period 2007–2009, 3,234 cases living in the north west entered treatment for problem substance use, of whom 2,417 reported that alcohol was their only problem substance. Of these 2,417 cases, 29% were living in households with children.
Donegal community alcohol survey
A community alcohol survey was completed by 554 participants across six communities in Co Donegal. The level of awareness of risk to children as a result of someone else’s drinking varied from 12% to 57%. In five of the six communities, awareness of children being verbally abused as a result of someone else’s drinking was the highest ranked risk; this was followed by awareness of children being left in an unsupervised or unsafe situation.
National child protection data results
National data reported by the HSE for 2006–2008 showed an increase in the number of reports received by social work departments in relation to child protection issues, from 21,040 reports in 2006 to 24,688 in 2008. The National Child Care minimum dataset for 2008 recorded the principal reason reported for child welfare concerns.  For 15% the principal reason was a family member abusing drugs/alcohol, and for 3% the principal reason was the child abusing drugs. In Co Donegal 24% of child welfare concerns were due to a family member abusing drugs/alcohol, while the corresponding figure for Sligo/Leitrim/West Cavan was 16%.
RAISE data
RAISE is a case management IT system used by social workers. Analysis of these data revealed that alcohol abuse was mentioned in over a third (36%) of child protection cases in Co Donegal.
Focus groups with frontline staff working in family services
Focus groups were conducted in Donegal and Sligo and included social workers, youth workers, addiction counsellors and community support services (NGOs). For most of the frontline staff an intervention with families regarding alcohol problems only occurred when the problems had reached a crisis point. Some of the burdens borne by children as a result of parental alcohol abuse included role reversal, whereby children took responsibility for household tasks and caring for their parents, and keeping the alcohol problem secret. These burdens can have considerable negative effects on a child’s schooling and social life. 
The results of this study indicate that children in Ireland and the North West are exposed to considerable risks as a result of someone else’s drinking and there is a need to reduce the level of hazardous drinking among adults in Ireland. The author concludes that ‘effective family support services are needed that actively address family alcohol problems through prevention and early intervention, as well as the more specialised treatment services as part of an integrated strategy to tackle family alcohol problems, which impact on the welfare of children’.
1. Hope A (2011) Hidden realities: children’s exposure to risks from parental drinking in Ireland.  Letterkenny: North West Alcohol Forum Ltd. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/16250

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