More children in care over parents’ alcohol abuse

More and more children are being taken into care due to families’ problems with drugs and alcohol addiction, according to the Frances Fitzgerald, the children’s minister.

There are now 6,160 children in care, up from 5,727 during 2011, and a 13% increase since 2006.

Fiona Ryan, head of Alcohol Action Ireland, said it was amazing how little attention the issue of parental alcohol abuse got considering the number of children affected by the problem.

“In the Roscommon case [where a woman was imprisoned for neglecting her five young children], alcohol was a big factor; it presented as neglect but behind it, there was serious alcohol abuse.”

Ms Ryan said the big problem was that data was not collected properly. The most recently available statistics — from 2008 — found that one in seven children were taken into care because of drug of alcohol problems.

“Irish statistics only look at the primary reason why a child is taken into care and so there is likely to be an underestimation of problems,” she said.

Irish Association of Social Workers president Ineke Durville said more children are coming into care because the back-up supports to help families are not there anymore.

“We are not aware of any big increase of referrals to services, but there are fewer addiction services, and fewer family support services because of cutbacks and more children are coming into care.

“Serious addiction often leads to neglect and that’s how it presents to the services. The threshold for dealing with neglect has lowered and the courts are recognising it more.”

Social worker numbers rose from 2,189 in 2009 to 2,441 in 2011, but 71 were due to retire last month.

The HSE said a reform programme was under way.

“The principle of minimum intervention is applied and families are supported without fail, but if no progress is being made, consideration is given to taking children into care.”


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