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National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Alcohol

The NACDA was established in response to the drug problem to assist in our continued need to improve our knowledge and understanding of problem drug use.

The goal of the NACDA is to advise the Government on problem drug use in Ireland in relation to prevalence, prevention consequences and treatment based on our analysis and interpretation of research findings.

Children of substance misusers more likely to experience problems with mental health, social skills, academic achievement and substance use

News Release, issued by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs
Tuesday October 18th, 2011

Greater integration of services needed to reduce impact of parental substance misuse on children

Need for more information and greater awareness of parental substance misuse highlighted

Children of substance misusers are more likely to experience problems with mental health, social skills, academic achievement and substance use - a seminar on supporting children living with parental substance misuse was told today.

Launching a new report by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD), its Director Joan O’Flynn said that there is a need for more integrated working between addiction services, children’s services and medical professionals to help reduce the negative impact of parental drug and alcohol misuse on children and the wider family.

The report Parental Substance Misuse: Addressing its Impact on Children, was presented today at a seminar jointly hosted by the NACD, the Health Service Executive (HSE) and Alcohol Action Ireland, the national charity for alcohol-related issues.

The report reviewed all major international research on the impact of parental substance misuse on children and identified what steps can be taken in Ireland to reduce its impact.

Ms. O’Flynn said that: “Alcohol and drugs misuse by parents can impact negatively on a child’s experience of positive parenting and can create stressful family circumstances that impact on child development. For many of the affected children, the effect of their parents’ substance misuse 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.

“Stress incurred as a result of parental substance misuse combined with the increased likelihood of the child being in care (either arranged informally by family or by court order) and/or suffering homelessness, results in these children being at a high risk of emotional isolation and/or social marginalisation.

“There is also a concern for individuals whose partners misuse substances, that their experiences of parenting can be dominated by a range of associated stressors including relationship conflict and/or breakdown, domestic abuse, family disruption/breakdown, social isolation and insecurity,” Ms. O’Flynn said.

The report also highlighted the consequences of substance misuse during pregnancy which can have harmful effects on the baby. For example, foetal alcohol spectrum disorder can result in significant physical, cognitive and behavioural problems in the child.

Alcohol Action Ireland Director, Fiona Ryan said: “Shame and secrecy shroud the issue of substance misuse in families with children living lives of quiet desperation. Alcohol Action Ireland has spent the past three years campaigning for children affected by parental alcohol problems to be seen and heard.

“We are delighted to act as partners with the NACD and HSE in hosting this important event which is presenting among others the Northern Ireland 'Hidden Harm Action Plan' for children living with parental substance misuse. We have a unique opportunity to implement a similar plan in the Republic, end the silence and make children’s lives better.”

HSE Assistant National Director of Children and Family Services, Phil Garland, said: “The HSE welcomes the fact that this seminar is aimed at strengthening knowledge and understanding of how parental drug and alcohol misuse impacts on children’s development, health and welfare. The seminar also provides a necessary and timely opportunity for policy makers and frontline staff to consider the shared responsibility of adult services towards children affected by parental drug and alcohol misuse and of children’s services towards parents who are misusing drugs and/or alcohol.

“Within the different agencies there needs to be an agreed collaboration from national/strategic to local level to support children and families where this issue is a concern and to increase the effectiveness of frontline child protection and addiction services with collaborative interventions based on measurable change outcomes.”

The key recommendations which the NACD makes are:

  • Additional research and data collection to properly estimate the number of children whose parents have substance misuse problems
  • The HSE Children First guidelines 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.

Further Information

Jemma Hogan, Montague Communications: (01) 830 3116 or (085) 722 9024
Ronan Cavanagh, Montague Communications: (01) 830 3116 or (086) 317 9731

Notes to Editor

The National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD) was established in response to the drug problem to assist in our continued need to improve our knowledge and understanding of problem drug use. The goal of the NACD is to advise the Government on problem drug use in Ireland in relation to prevalence, prevention consequences and treatment based on analysis and interpretation of research findings.

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