Tusla - Ireland's Child & Family Agency

Tusla and HSE join forces in new initiative to support children whose parents misuse alcohol and other drugs

HSE/Tusla partnership provides training for frontline health and social service staff working with affected children

Tusla-Child and Family Agency and the HSE have today jointly launched new training resources for health and social service staff to tackle the serious problems children face because of their parent’s/caregiver’s misuse of alcohol and other drugs.

Today’s publication of the Tusla/HSE  Seeing through Hidden Harm to Brighter Futures Practice Guide marks one of the first major national interagency collaborations between Tusla and the HSE, and the accompanying Strategic Statement outlines how both State organisations will work together in addressing the needs of children affected by parental problem alcohol, and other drug use, in Ireland. A Hidden Harm information leaflet for practitioners has also been published.

Commenting at today’s launch in Tallaght the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr Katherine Zappone TD, said: “In order to protect, support and safeguard our children we must ensure those in the frontline are fully trained to spot signs of danger. Every one providing care, support and protection to children and young people needs to be aware of Hidden Harm and know how to respond. This partnership between Tusla and the HSE is to be welcomed. It shows what can be achieved when our agencies work together. The targets are impressive with 1,700 social workers and 400 addiction staff scheduled for training over the next two years. This is a concrete and real measure which will further ensure the safety and wellbeing of children, young people and families.”

It is estimated that up to 1.4 million people in Ireland have a harmful drinking pattern.

Children who experience parental substance misuse often live chaotic family lives and their home lives can be high in tension, aggression and unpredictability.

The adverse experience of children living with, and impacted by, parental substance misuse has been termed ‘Hidden Harm’ because these children are often unknown to services, and they suffer harm due to compromised parenting. The HSE and Tusla are committed to keeping the needs of children of problem alcohol and other drug users visible in the professional community, ensuring they are identified and supported.

Speaking at the launch, the Minister of State with responsibility for Health Promotion and the National Drugs Strategy, Catherine Byrne TD, said: “This is a hugely important collaboration between the HSE and Tusla, placing a spotlight on the serious issue of Hidden Harm. It is crucial to increase awareness of how a parent's drug or alcohol use can affect a child’s wellbeing, and to protect these vulnerable children. Many children in this situation are not known to the health and welfare services, but through this joint HSE/Tusla strategy, health and social service staff will be trained to identify children whose physical and mental health may be at risk, and to respond to their needs quickly and appropriately.

“Today’s launch marks significant progress on a key strategic action set out in our National Drugs Strategy, ‘Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery’, which aims to reduce the impact of parental substance misuse on young children. In dealing with addiction, it is important to take a family-centred approach, ensuring that children are protected while also supporting parents in accessing the help they need to begin their journey of recovery. This will help to reduce harm and create better outcomes for parent and child.”

The guest speaker at the launch of today’s initiative was Joy Barlow MBE, a Scottish-based expert on Hidden Harm - and member of the national steering group which produced the new Tusla/HSE Hidden Harm guidance manuals for staff.

Dr Aisling Gillen, Tusla Service Director(West), commented: “Tusla is absolutely committed to early intervention work in the lives of children and families. The Hidden Harm Practice Guide and Strategic Statement help us to recognise the hidden impact of problem parental drug and alcohol use on children. Tusla is working with adult services in the HSE to generate a more family-focused approach that considers the needs of children and other family members. Tusla aims to provide the right help at the right time through our diverse range of family support services. The publication of these new Hidden Harm resources is another acknowledgement of this objective.”

Geraldine Crowley, Assistant National Director, Primary Care Strategy and Planning, HSE added: “We hope that the development of this Practice Guide and Strategic Statement will support and empower practitioners, to better identify the difficulties experienced by children and families, because of parental problems with alcohol and other drugs. The new materials provide information on the mutual roles and responsibilities of practitioners, across the HSE and Tusla, who work in this sensitive and emotive practice area. The new resource materials emphasise what is expected of us all, individually, and collectively, in the context of Hidden Harm.”

Seeing through Hidden Harm to Brighter Futures

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