Supporting Leitrim families impacted by parental alcohol misuse

Speaking ahead of the launch of the M-PACT programme for Sligo and Leitrim, the Alcohol Forum’s CEO, Kieran Doherty has highlighted the growing need to address the impact that parental alcohol misuse is having on children here in Ireland; ‘As a country, we have had our head in the sand, perhaps it’s too difficult for us to really think about the lives that children are living and the struggles that parents with addiction issues are facing’.

Earlier this year the HSE and Tusla released a joint strategic statement on hidden harm and a practice guide. In that document, Moving Parents and Children Together (M-PACT) is named as one of the programmes recognised as making a real difference in the lives of families. ‘We are delighted to be now in a position to expand the M-PACT programme to Sligo and Leitrim after successfully introducing it in Donegal in 2016. Stigma and shame are huge issues for parents and as a society we need to support parents rather than judge them. Given the right supports, real change is possible for families’.

Children in homes affected by alcohol misuse often live chaotic and unsafe lives and are at greater risk for many behavioural and emotional problems. They have markedly higher rates of mental and physical health issues and many face a range of difficult situations from family violence to neglect. In some instances, parental problem alcohol and other drug use may be experienced by a child as trauma, which can continue to have a negative impact decades later.

Last year, a report by the HSE indicated that 200,000 children are likely to be living with and impacted by parental alcohol misuse (Hope, A. et al, 2018). M-PACT is a ten-week brief intervention to help children aged 8-17 whose parents have problems with alcohol and /or other drugs.

The programme supports families to work together to understand how parental substance misuse has affected their lives. M-PACT allows children to talk about their feelings and experiences with parents in a safe environment. The programme can bring together up to eight families at any one time, where at least one parent has or had an alcohol or drug problem and where there is at least one child aged 8-17 years old. The Alcohol Forum is the only licensed provider of M-PACT in Ireland.

Teresa, one of the parents who completed M-PACT in Donegal will be speaking at the launch and is very keen to encourage families in Sligo and Leitrim to take that brave first step on a journey that could transform their lives. Reflecting on her family’s experience of the programme she said: ‘M-PACT has given my children back their voice. It has helped my kids…and it has helped to open the communication between myself, my husband and my kids again. My family has begun to heal from the hurt and disconnection caused by my addiction.’

Some of the children who completed M-PACT in Donegal have highlighted the huge difference it has made to them. One young person spoke about how the programme had made it possible for them to talk to their parent about their fears and break the silence in the family around the issue: “We talk now and it’s great. I don’t have to worry as much about mammy now when she is not drinking anymore”.

Another described how the programme had helped to break the sense of isolation that they were feeling: “It helped being able to speak out, knowing that others knew how I felt!”

M-PACT will be launched by Marian Harkin MEP in Sligo IT on May 17. Karen Galligan from Trinity College Dublin whose PhD focuses on Hidden Harm will be giving a talk at event. “our recently published figures of the prevalence of the number of children possibly impacted by parental illicit substance use is 15-24% and alcohol dependency is 14-37%. These figures in conjunction with interviews with parents who use substances, family members of that parent, child/family and drug services and international literature all point to a need to respond in a supportive, interagency, non-stigmatizing manner to support the families to recovery. Awareness of the role of trauma, and the capacity to build on protective factors are critical.”

Philip Maree, Service Lead, M-PACT Sligo – Leitrim is keen to highlight the support from Tusla for the programme; ‘M-PACT has the potential to make a huge difference for families living in Counties Leitrim and Sligo, and this has been made possible through the funding and support we have received from Tusla, Sligo -Leitrim Prevention Partnership and Family Support Service. Both Philip and Aedamar Keenan, Tusla Senior Coordinator, Prevention, Partnership and Family Support, Sligo- Leitrim, Tusla will also be speaking at the event.

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