Drinkaware welcomes the opportunity to respond to the public consultation on the next Government Policy Framework for Children & Young People in Ireland 2023-2028. Drinkaware firmly believes in a ‘whole of government, whole of society approach’ in addressing the issues that face children and young people in Ireland. Outlined below are the key areas which Drinkaware believes should be given priority in the new policy framework:
A key area of priority should include the recognition of and therefore a continuous assessment of the changing environment in which young people are living, any new policy framework should be adaptable to the everchanging world that young people are growing up in. All aspects of young people’s lives must be considered, from their school community, their households, local community, wider societal and cultural community, alongside the global world in which they live and contribute.
A greater and broader inclusion of a diverse range of data, experience and perspectives is required for a well-rounded and inclusive understanding of what life is like for children and young people in Ireland. Comprehensive assessment and analysis of existing programmes that target the identified indicators is essential. Transparent accountability regarding the Framework’s progress will be crucial and analysis of this progress must include all stakeholders, particularly children and young people themselves.
Much has been achieved to date through the Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures policy, but the various potential impacts and effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on children and young people may not be realised for many years to come. For example, alcohol harms are evident in Irish society, and are at risk of increasing as a result of the pandemic. Drinkaware’s mission to delay the age of first drink remains a key priority for the charity and with this mind we implore the government to include in their policy framework, a nationwide Alcohol Education Programme for junior cycle students. To date, no comprehensive nation-wide alcohol education programme has been rolled out for junior cycle students. In 2017 Drinkaware began implementation of the Drinkaware Alcohol Education Programme. To date over 15,000 students have taken part in the programme, which is based on evidence and best practice. The Drinkaware Alcohol Education programme is a home-grown, independently evaluated, tried-and-tested programme, which already exists and offers unique and invaluable insights and learning.
We offer the programme, our evidence, insights and learnings as examples of effective wellbeing supports in practice and urge the government policy framework for children & young people in Ireland 2023-2028 to proactively explore, develop and collaborate with all stakeholders to implement and scale up evidence- based prevention policies and programmes. To prevent and reduce alcohol misuse is to better the lives of children and young people.
The following are short summaries of each answer given:
What can be done to ensure children and young people are active and healthy with positive physical and mental wellbeing?
Healthy Ireland’s new Plan does indicate an intention to start planning in 2022 to “Provide measures at community level to delay the initiation of alcohol consumption by children and young people”. However, an evidence-informed, independently evaluated programme based on best practice already exists and has been delivered to over 15,000 1st to 3rd year students across the country: Since 2017, with the singular and express objective to delay the age of first drink, Drinkaware has rolled out and scaled an Alcohol Education Programme for Junior Cycle Students (JC AEP).
Currently the Drinkaware Junior Cycle Alcohol Education Programme is the only national primary prevention programme. We offer the programme, our evidence, insights and learnings as examples of effective wellbeing support in practice, and urge the new framework, to consider this and proactively explore, develop and collaborate with all stakeholders.
What can be done to ensure children and young people are achieving their full potential in school and all areas of learning and development?
It is crucial that children and young people are taught to challenge, to think critically, to form opinions, and develop emotional resilience, so that they can be the capable adults of tomorrow. School and further education must reflect the needs of all constituencies of young people in Ireland. Positive educational experiences are important to support young people in becoming citizens that make a positive contribution to Irish Society.
In order to ensure young people can fulfil their full potential they must be armed with accurate information and abilities to digest the many messages that are received by them daily – whether it’s messaging around alcohol, weight loss, trends, mental health etc. It is our responsibility to ensure that young people in Ireland are given the tools they need and require to make day to day decisions that are positive for their learning and development, their physical and mental health and their futures.
What can be done to ensure that children and young people in Ireland are free from poverty, disadvantage and social exclusion?
To ensure that children and young people in Ireland can lead equal lives, we must acknowledge and tackle all areas of disadvantage and its sources. Intersectionality and complexity must become public areas of discussion to tackle the challenges that arise within Irish society.
Institutions of education are paramount to creating awareness and change for young people. We must support the adults who are nurturing our young people. Young people must feel safe and included in school, to feel valued in society and empowered to make independent choices fuelled by emotional competence.
What could be done to respond to the impact of Covid-19 on children and young people?
It is important to note the detrimental impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of children and young people. Their lives have been thrown into disarray, and they have had no control over lockdowns, guidelines, and losses. Drinkaware research found that 40% of 18–24-year-olds rated their mental health as ‘low’ (Drinkaware Barometer, B&A 2021). Binge drinking for this age group jumped from 16% to 31% over the course of the pandemic. Furthermore, 21% of households with pre-school aged children reported binge drinking on at least a weekly basis during the initial lockdown phase in 2020. As a society, we must put in place protective factors in our education system, ones that prepare student for life. Although no-one could have predicted the COVID-19 pandemic, educational environments have the prime opportunity to provide children and young people with vital skills to cope with drastic life events in a healthy manner.
What top priorities should the new policy framework focus on, to improve the lives of children and young people by 2028?
- Recognition of, and therefore continuous assessment of, the changing environment in which children and young people are living
- Greater and broader inclusion of a diverse range of data, experiences, and perspectives for a more rounded and inclusive understanding of what life is like for children and young people in Ireland
- Comprehensive assessment and analysis of existing programmes that target the identified indicators
- Regular, transparent accountability regarding the Framework’s progress
- Meaningful collaboration with all stakeholders, in particular those who have access to data and evidence regarding programmes relating to children and young people, and children and young people themselves
- The development and implementation of a comprehensive, empowering, nationwide alcohol education programme, which encompasses a holistic approach to alcohol education through mental and physical well-being.