Exciting news! We’ve finalised all our sessions, and now we’re delighted to share our conference programme with you. This is subject to change – but we wanted to share this with you all sooner rather than later.
Our second guest post comes from Lyndsay Fraser-Robertson, Family Outreach Worker for Circle – Circle offers a range of whole family support services that promote children’s healthy development and potential. They engage with families who face exclusion due to social injustice, poverty and health inequalities.
I am a Family Outreach Worker for a charity called Circle, based in Edinburgh. I work in the Harbour Team who support children and families affected by parental substance use. Circle provide support to communities across central Scotland. Our aim is to support the most disadvantaged and vulnerable children and families to improve their lives, promote their healthy development and reach their potential.
Social injustice, poverty and health inequalities are associated with families experiencing drug or alcohol addiction, imprisonment, neglect and abuse, family breakdown, involvement with care services, and physical and mental health problems. Circle works with families to identify and build on their strengths and can support whole families.
Working in the Harbour Team I am based in a locality recovery service which has been designed as a one stop shop which offers a range of drug and alcohol treatment and support services. The service is run by a team made up of staff from voluntary sector, NHS and Social Work. The easiest way for most people to start to get support from their local Recovery Service is to come to a Drop-in session. At the Drop-in, the worker will listen, give advice and options, agree a plan and organise the first step of the plan. All Drop-ins operate a “no wrong door” approach so people can come to any of them regardless of where they live in the city.
If an individual attending the drop in has dependent children they will be offered access to Circle as a family support service. Part of my role is to meet with the individuals who have agreed to find out more about our service and provide information on how Circle can support them and their children. We can work with a range of people who have been affected by their own current or historic substance use and as long as there is a rehabilitation plan we can work with families who have children in their care or are living temporarily away from home.
We offer a home visiting service which makes our service as easy as possible to access and staff are skilled at building trusting and positive working relationships with all families we work with. The Harbour Team offer a parenting program called Parents Under Pressure. The Parents Under Pressure (PuP) program combines psychological principles relating to parenting, child behaviour and parental emotion regulation within a case management model. The program is home-based and designed for families in which there are many difficult life circumstances that impact on family functioning. Such problems may include depression and anxiety, substance misuse, family conflict and severe financial stress. The program is highly individualized to suit each family. Parents are given their own Parent Workbook.
In 2017 I was awarded a Travelling Fellowship through the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust in the category of Early Years Intervention and Prevention. My project was entitled ‘Keeping Families Together Safely’ and I wanted to explore various services in the US for substance using pregnant and parenting women with a focus on residential services. Current community drug treatment services are not designed to provide support to individuals in their role as a parent and are built around the needs of predominantly male opiate users. Family support services are not designed to treat problematic substance use which results in the two issues being treated as separate entities
Evidence would suggest the most effective of interventions take place during pregnancy and childbirth and therefore I found several residential treatment facilities in operation for pregnant and parenting women in the United States. This type of facility does not exist in Scotland, so I wanted to learn more about the residential recovery models and how we might be able to use some of these to provide mothers and children with more choice in their recovery journey, whilst remaining together. Separating children from their primary care giver can be damaging and the effects long lasting to the relationship.
Women as primary care givers who use substances are often vilified and judged as bad mothers. We know however from the generational cycle these women who use substances are more likely to have grown up with parents who used substances in a childhood characterized by abuse, neglect, violence and criminal activity. These mothers go on to have their own children and parent the only way they know, based on how they were parented.
I travelled to Seattle and New Haven visiting a variety of services, both residential and community services. I had four main objectives:
Demonstrate the benefits of different holistic models of care for women and children affected by parental substance use
Increase the likelihood of babies remaining safely in their mother’s care who have been addicted to substances
Evidence best support models for mothers who have used substances to become more confident when parenting their children
Reduce barriers to mothers and children accessing recovery services
I grouped my findings and recommendations into four main themes with details of how my recommendations could be implemented and the challenges what may come with them:
Family interventions for working with parental substance use include integrated substance use treatment
Residential facilities provide safe environments for women and children
Pregnant & parenting women benefit from longer periods of support
Powerful dynamics in peer support and group work
Family support services should include substance use treatment
Residential recovery facilities should be available for women and children in Scotland
Support should be offered for longer periods of time based on the individual needs of the family
A peer parenting mentor program should be piloted.
The main benefit I found regarding residential options for women and children is the provision of allowing mothers and their children to recover in a safe, stable and supervised environment. Many of the mothers I met, both on my travels had experienced abuse, neglect, violence, homelessness, poverty and other traumatic circumstances by the time they presented for a residential recovery option. Many mothers report unhealthy relationships throughout their lives so being able to parent in a healthy way is contradicting what they have learned. By allowing mothers time we are allowing the opportunity to start from scratch in respect to sobriety and parenting. Nurturing the Mother-child relationship is important when considering effective interventions for keeping families together safely and when residential treatment is not an option, situations involving parental substance use become risky to manage and can make workers understandably anxious. However, by providing intensive and evidence based parenting interventions alongside treatment, allows for necessary monitoring, evaluation and supervision whilst causing the least disruption to the mother-child relationship. Allowing mother and child to maintain a positive attachment to each other will influence how the child goes on to form other attachments in their life.
Our first guest blog comes from Oliver Standing, Director of Policy and Communications at Adfam. Oliver will be presenting at DAWF’s conference about BEAD. To register for the conference, please click here.
Bereaved through Alcohol and Drugs (BEAD) is a project that was set up five years ago to offer peer support to people who have lost someone due to drug or alcohol use. Funded by the Big Lottery, it was a result of a partnership between Adfam, a charity which supports the families of drug and alcohol users, and Cruse Bereavement Care, the biggest bereavement organisation in the country.
Over the course of the project we helped support a number of people who had been bereaved in this way through peer support, either 1-to-1 or in a group setting. Although the project has now come to an end, a comprehensive website was produced that offers information, guidance and practical advice for those bereaved due to drugs and alcohol: www.beadproject.org.uk.
Adfam and Cruse undertook a scoping review (pdf) that found that support for people who have been bereaved from drugs and alcohol was severely lacking and that an important aspect of this support was being able to talk to someone who can understand.
Other than the groups set up by BEAD there are only a few others in the country (Rebound in Portsmouth, DrugFam in High Wycombe, SWADS in Swindon, BTA/BDP in Bristol and FASS in Glasgow) specifically for people who have been bereaved in this way, which can mean that people often end up suffering in silence.
For some people, their family member had struggled with addiction for years, so the sadness at the death is combined with the ongoing emotional strain that the drug misuse had on the family. They may feel confusion, guilt or even self-blame. Meanwhile other people, who may have lost their loved one from a drug overdose for example, may not even have known that they took substances and the first they learn of it is when the police knock on their door. This can be a huge shock to go along with the grief. The shame that families sometimes feel can make them reticent to talk, especially when they struggle to find people can understand what they’re feeling.
One client, before they received support from BEAD, said:
“Friends didn’t know what to say or do. People don’t understand the loss of an alcoholic or drug addict, they think it’s self-inflicted. So, friends avoided me rather than just be there for me.”
“It’s a double bereavement and therefore complex. You have already lost your loved one to drugs or alcohol so the grieving process may have already started.”
BEAD trained a number of peer support volunteers who themselves had been bereaved through alcohol or drugs, to be able to support others going through a similar experience. Due to the diversity of experience, BEAD tried to pair people up who had a similar kind of bereavement – not only the type of bereavement but also their relationship to who they have lost, whether it was a partner, a parent, a child or a sibling. A range of emotions and experiences amongst both the peer supporters and the clients allowed this to work, and the stories on the website also reflect a wide range of experiences.
The impact of this has been huge for the people it has helped. BEAD has received plenty of positive feedback on the project, especially regarding the relationship between clients and their peer supporters and there has been a marked improvement in the emotional wellbeing of clients in the time in which they have accessed the services.
One beneficiary of the service said:
“It was a bit of a godsend really, being able to speak to someone who had lost their partner because of alcohol as well, so the feelings of guilt she could understand.”
Although the BEAD project has finished both organisations involved will continue to r to raise awareness of drug and alcohol bereavement and how important it is that people get support. If you have lost someone due to drugs or alcohol, you can access the website HERE.
We were absolutely overwhelmed by the quantity and quality of abstracts for this conference. After a long chat between the organisers, we decided that we would expand the conference to run over two days to get the most out of the conference. We really hope you’ll be able to join us for both days – more information can be found on our Registration page.
A preliminary programme can be downloaded here – we will be updating this with specific panel themes as presenters confirm. If you are a presenter and are unable to make both days, please get in touch ASAP so we can make sure you present on the day you attend.
We are so excited to be making this happen. Thank you for all your support!
This week is Children of Alcoholics Week (11th-17th February). This is the first of two posts by Sharon Greenwood, co-organiser of DAWF. Sharon is a PhD Candidate at the University of Glasgow, and currently preparing to submit her sociological thesis on the impact of parental substance use on young adults (16-30). The first post presents an overview of the problem, whilst the second reflects on her experience of ‘doing’ research with affected young people. If you would like to find out more, please contact Sharon – details can be found on DAWFs ‘About Us‘ page.
National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NACOA, 2018) estimate that one in five children in the UK are affected by parental drinking. The figure is smaller for those affected by parental drug use (ACMD, 2003). Several attempts have been made to establish a clear estimate of the ‘problem’ of parental substance use. Perhaps the most useful estimate emerged from the analysis conducted by Manning et al (2009). The figure below (replicated from their Open Access BMJ paper) illustrates the difficulty in establishing clear estimates of young people affected – often, problem substance use co-occurs with poor mental health, and will often involve polysubstance use.
From this diagram, we see that at there are an estimated 2.65 million children affected by a parent’s drinking. Almost 450,000 of these children are affected by parental alcohol and drug use, and around 120,000 are also affected by parental mental distress. Adding to this complexity, young people can be affected by more than one parent’s substance use. Many are also affected by issues indirectly related to problem substance use – such as poverty, domestic violence, interactions with the criminal justice system, divorce, separation, and for some, death. Most of these children will not come to the attention of support services, instead dealing with the ‘problem’ on their own and often keeping it a secret (Barnard & Barlow, 2003).
Sociological perspectives on parental substance use are limited but they do exist. However, many of these (with the exception of Bancroft et al, 2004 and a more socio-psychological approach from Velleman & Orford, 1999) consider ‘children affected’ as an age-defined group, limited to those under 16. We know from research on the sociology of childhood and youth that an identity shift occurs during adolescence, where the social label of the ‘child’ on absolute terms (i.e. in relation to age) no longer accurately defines what that person ‘is’. However, whilst this group morph into ‘young adults’, they continue to retain their relational definition as a ‘child’…thus, continue to be a ‘child’ affected. Despite this, the limited service provision that does exist typically ceases for young people affected by parental substance use over 16, and in a minority of cases, over 18.
Based on personal experience (something I reflect upon in the second post in this series), my doctoral research sought to explore the impact of parental substance use on young adults children, over the age of 16. The driving force behind this research was a desire to find out what happens to the grown-up ‘children’, who have – or continue to be – affected by parental substance use. Over the course of 18 months, I used several different qualitative research methods to explore this issue – including interviewing, participant observation, visual methods, and secondary data analysis. A more detailed post on my findings will come after I have submitted my thesis in April. But what I can say for now is that this is an often overlooked group who carry with them their experiences of being affected by a parent’s substance use. For most, the actual physical act of consumption is not the issue; the ‘problem’ is a multifarious complex ‘mess’ of interwoven problems. It is a pervasive ‘problem’, that for most, shapes the critical point of early adulthood where choices (albeit socially constrained) are made about the direction they wish to take in life. It shapes hopes and dreams for the future, and it shapes attitudes towards what they consider as ‘family’.
This group often end up seeking support and help from teachers and pastoral care within educational settings, and present at their GP. Most of the participants involved in my research had some engagement with primary mental health services – however, most were provided with a pharmaceutical solution that helped resolve the immediate distress. What most wanted was a space to talk about these issues, within a judgement free zone. For the majority of my participants, our interview had been the first time they had openly disclosed to someone that they were a young person – a child – affected by parental substance use. Most were afraid of admitting it to others due to the inherent stigma surrounding the issue.
Going back to the figures that Manning et al (2009) published…where are these ‘children’ affected? Well, the short answer is – they exist all around us. Within our circles of friends, colleagues, even family members.
Perhaps the fact we still don’t know where they are is the biggest ‘take-home’ message from my research.
Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) (2003). Hidden Harm: Responding to the needs of children of problem drug users.
Bancroft, A. et al (2004) Parental Drug and Alcohol Misuse: Resilience and transition among young people. Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
Barnard, M. & Barlow, J. (2003) ‘Discovering parental drug dependence: silence and disclosure’, Children and Society 17:1, pp.45-56.
Manning, V. et al (2009) ‘New estimates of the number of children living with substance misusing parents: results from UK national household surveys’ BMJ Public Health 9:377 https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2458-9-377