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Pike, Brigid (2012) Prioritising children in drug policy and practice. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 40, Winter 2011, pp. 28-29.

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The needs of children of drug-using parents are attracting attention from policy makers and service providers both here in Ireland and in Europe. 

Barnardos and the Family Support Agency
On 10 October 2011 Barnardos and the FSA launched Parenting positively – coping with a parent’s problem drug or alcohol use, a new resource for children, teenagers and their parents to support them in understanding and dealing with difficulties that can result from a parent’s problem drug or alcohol use: it not only gives parents an insight as to how their behaviour, or that of their partners, is affecting the child, but also helps the child to understand what is happening and what they can do to help themselves.
The resource comprises three booklets – one for children aged 6–12, one for parents of children aged 6–12, and one for parents of teenagers. The booklets are written in a question and answer format, with contributions from children and parents who have experienced the impact of alcohol and drugs on their family. Teenagers are catered for with an online resource available at www.barnardos.ie/teenhelp. The Parenting Positively series of booklets, of which this resourceis the latest, are available free to download from www.barnardos.ie . 
National Advisory Committee on Drugs, Health Service Executive and Alcohol Action Ireland
On 18 October 2011 the NACD, HSE and Alcohol Action Ireland hosted a one-day seminar, attended by policy makers and service providers, at which a report, Parental substance misuse: addressing its impact on children, was launched. Having reviewed all the major international research on the impact of parental substance misuse on children, author Dr Justine Horgan, senior researcher with the NACD, reports that children of substance misusers are more likely to experience problems with mental health, social skills, academic achievement and substance use.
Horgan identifies five priority areas for policy makers, service providers and researchers to consider:
1.       Consequences of parental substance misuse for child development: substance misuse during pregnancy can have harmful effects on the baby.
2.       Consequences for parenting and family life: the stress owing to parental substance misuse combined with the increased likelihood of the child being in care and/or suffering homelessness, results in these children being at a high risk of emotional isolation and/or social marginalisation.
3.       Impact on child outcomes: for many affected children, the effect continues into their adult lives; for some, the impact can be multifaceted and persist not only into adult life but even into the lives of the next generation.
4.       Response to parental substance misuse: more integrated working between addiction services, children’s services and medical professionals is needed to help reduce the negative impact of parental drug and alcohol misuse on children and the wider family.
5.       Future research and data needs: five research areas are identified that would help to fill gaps in Ireland’s research, statistics and information regarding children of parents who misuse drugs.
Key recommendations include:
·         Additional research and data collection to properly estimate the number of children whose parents have substance misuse problems.
·         The HSE Children First guidelines to be used by all services and organisations working regularly with children who experience parental substance misuse and with their parents.
·         Assess the extent to which adult alcohol and drug treatment services are supporting parenting and liaise with child support and other relevant services.
·         Assess the extent to which professional education and training in areas such as youth work, psychology, addiction support, guidance, counselling and childcare can address children affected by parental substance misuse.
·         Educate women on the adverse effects of consuming alcohol and drugs during pregnancy and train medical professionals so that they can raise awareness among their patients of the risks of consuming these substances.
·         Consider appropriate interventions and ways of working for primary health care staff who are involved in the early stages of children’s lives such as public health nurses, GPs and community mothers.
Speaking at the seminar, Norah Gibbons, chair of Alcohol Action Ireland and director of advocacy at Barnardos, called for the following:
1.       Invest in prevention and early intervention services by increasing collaboration between organisations and functions, and increasing awareness and understanding among service providers of the needs of children and families damaged by parental alcohol problems. Develop joint local protocols between addiction services, health and social services, adult and children’s services, in both the voluntary and statutory sectors.
2.       Make services more holistic, i.e. a ‘whole family’ approach, such as that provided by Northern Ireland’s 'Hidden Harm Action Plan' for children living with parental substance misuse.
3.       Provide services and supports directly to children, for example through self-referral services, helplines, in-school counselling, therapeutic support or emergency accommodation.
4.       Ensure organisations are clear about their responsibilities under Children First by putting the guidelines on a legislative basis. Drug and alcohol services have a crucial role to play here, in terms of identifying parents who are need of support with their parenting and caring responsibilities and providing appropriate treatment, guidance and referral.
5.       Amend the Constitution to enshrine children’s rights.
What will you do differently/how will you act to prioritise children in your organisation?
What does your organisation do to ensure that children are seen and heard?
What will your organisation do differently?
Norah Gibbons
European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction
Earlier this year the EMCDDA invited the national focal points in each of the 27 member states of the EU to report on drug-using parents and their children within their country – the current situation and the risks and harms, the legislative and policy framework, and the nature of responses. A summary report is expected to be published during 2012.

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