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Children suffer as parents turning to pandemic booze



Many are turning to alcohol (stock image)

Many are turning to alcohol (stock image)

Many are turning to alcohol (stock image)

Children are suffering due to their parents' problem drinking during lockdown as more turn to the bottle to cope with the stress of the Covid-19 pandemic, children's rights groups have warned.

As concerns grow about the impact of school closures on the well-being of children, problem drinking in the home has been flagged as a "worrying issue".

Tanya Ward, chief executive of the Children's Rights Alliance, described it as the "dark side of lockdown".

"It can get very toxic at home as people have lost jobs because of Covid and are struggling with mental health and every day is a grind, so we are concerned," said Ms Ward.

"When you talk to schools who deal with parents who may be struggling with drinking, they highlight how Christmas is a difficult time due to increased consumption, then in January their children return to school and there's a focus on emotional well-being and trying to get them back into a routine, but for these children there's none of that now as schools are closed.

"It has definitely been an issue that has hugely come up. If people are drinking harmfully every day, that impacts their ability to parent their children, make sure their kids get fed, help them with homework, respond to their needs and it can sometimes result in them being violent towards their children."

Cases published yesterday by the Child Care Law Reporting Project (CCLRP) highlighted the growing impact of alcohol abuse on children.

In one case, the District Court made a care order for two children due to alcohol misuse and domestic violence. The court heard that the parents were in the middle of a divorce and there was alcohol misuse by both parties.

In another case, a child said she was fearful of living at home and was responsible for caring for her four younger siblings due to their parents' addiction issues. There was often no food or heating in the house and at one point the children did not attend school for several months.

Children's charity Barnardos - which works with vulnerable children and their families - said parents with a history of substance misuse are finding the lockdown incredibly hard.

"Parents who are in recovery are trying hard to stay on the straight and narrow and at the moment it is hard to manage that with the different stresses that Covid-19 brings," said Suzanne Connolly, chief executive of Barnardos.

"We are all trying to find coping mechanisms. This (pandemic) isn't easy for anyone but drink is a depressant and doesn't make things easier.

"It absolutely affects people's capacity to parent, and our real worry is for isolated families.

"We're very worried about vulnerable children for whom the usual structures are a vital source of safety. School is such an important source of routine and teachers notice if children aren't there or whether there is a change in their personality.

"In Barnardos, we work with schools to provide breakfast clubs and if parents have been drinking heavily, they're not going to be giving their children breakfast, which is why the clubs are so important."

Alcohol Action Ireland said problem alcohol use continues to be a source of trauma for many children during the ongoing pandemic.

Dr Sheila Gilheany, CEO of Alcohol Action, said the organisation met key stakeholders recently to establish timely and meaningful supports for children who are "largely voiceless in this situation".