Coping with Hidden Harm

Derry Peace Bridge

Children and young people using the VOICES service face the daily reality that their parent is causing harm by their alcohol or drug use. Living with a parent who has an addiction can sometimes leave children exposed to an unpredictable and chaotic home life, where it can be hard to get their needs met. The young people we come into contact with through VOICES can feel confused about their parent and how they change when they are under the influence of a substance. They can also feel guilty, ashamed, angry, hurt, sad, helpless, fearful or worried about a parent who is finding it difficult to stop using substances, despite the damaging impact it is having on their lives and loved ones. By working with VOICES the child can express themselves as they meet with their worker- this is in the form of key work, counselling or family work.

All interventions seek to provide a safe, predictable, nurturing environment for the young person to freely communicate their thoughts and feelings using different methods. The team use a variety of tools to help reach out and express care to these families, and hope that they will begin to trust and open up about their stories. This can include anything from puppets to paints to talking over a hot chocolate. Every child is different, every family unique, and we aim to use a person-centred approach to create a space for each valuable person to feel comfortable to explore the impact of addiction. 

It is a privilege to come alongside these families and a balance must be sought in prioritising the child and ensuring their welfare is paramount alongside showing compassion and support to the using parent. The parents we meet in VOICES have often endured many adverse childhood and life experiences which have resulted in broken hearts and a build up of pain which they can feel unable to bear and as a result they turn to a substance to cope.  However, their pain can then passed on to their child- it has been said that, ‘addiction is a family disease - one person may use but the whole family suffers.’ This is why VOICES uses a family approach and where recovery has already started, family therapy can help to rebuild and restore some of the broken trust and harm caused by addiction. 

Here are some reasons why the VOICES team are motivated to continue doing their jobs with passion and commitment:

'We can make small changes that can have a ripple effect with families.'

'We can give young people the opportunity to express themselves without fear.'

'I love my job role because it gives us the opportunity to try and break a destructive cycle of harm and introduce better ways of coping with life.'

'We can help young people and families to find their VOICES by seeing their innate worth and value as human beings, and helping them to see and believe it too.'

You can read more about the VOICES services at