A family story

12-18 February 2017 marks Children of Alcoholics week, a campaign led by Nacoa, (National Association for Children of Alcoholics) to raise awareness of children affected by parental alcohol problems.

Here at Blenheim we provide support to drug and alcohol users, as well as their family and carers. Our family service based in Islington helps children, young people and families who are having difficulties because of parental use of alcohol or other drugs.

Read about how their work helped one family to open up about their experiences with parental alcohol abuse and come together as a stronger unit.


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CASA Families is a safe, welcoming place

Case study
CASA Family Service’s work with this family was with a father and his 10 year old daughter and 9 year old son. The children’s mother was a cannabis user with a partner who carried out domestic violence towards her – witnessed by the children. Before being referred to us by the social worker, their father gained custody of them with the support of Children’s Social Care. The children were very aware of the partner’s drinking and to an extent their mother’s drug use but mostly were worried about their mother’s partner and his behaviour.

Our work
When they first came to their father’s home the children were so traumatised by what they has witnessed while living with their mother that they would hide under blankets or bed covers when the social worker talked to them about what they had experienced. In an initial meeting at CASA Family Service the 9 year old spent some of the session under a table. The father was very concerned about how the children had been affected by what they had witnessed and helping him support the children to talk about their worries and experiences was the focus of our work with the family.

Our goal with the children was to give helpful ways of understanding what had happened and space to explore and express their feelings. Early on they really took to our key message to children: “you did not cause the difficulties and it is not your responsibility to fix them”.

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Bag of rocks exercise

Our “Bag of Rocks” exercise really helped them to see how much they were carrying. In this exercise children are shown a bag of colourful rocks with feeling words such as fear, worry, hurt, anger and separation written on them. They are asked to imagine how burdensome it would be to carry the full bag around with them and then the empty bag once we have shared and talked about all feelings. Children of all ages quickly pick up the idea that it is important to share your feelings and not hold onto them.

The family attended the Young Carers’ Workshop at the service and art therapy sessions delivered by a volunteer art therapist. The dad told us that the sessions were highly successful in helping the children express themselves and bond as siblings and were the “cherry on the cake” of the family’s engagement with CASA Family Service.

Impact
Through working with CASA family service the children showed real signs of improvement and happiness. The father said that he felt the service had really understood his and the children’s needs and that their experience would stay with them for life.

After attending sessions:
• The children were bickering with each other less, more aware of each other’s needs and even holding hands in the street
• The children started wanting to do after school activities where before they had been reluctant as they wanted to be at home close to their father where they felt safe and secure
• Both children were much more willing to talk to him about what life was like when they were living with their mum and her partner. The 10 year old in particular was able to tell her mum what she does not like about her behaviour. Their father put this newfound confidence down to the work done at the service
• Their behaviour and academic achievement in school improved dramatically

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We use a map to show children they are not alone in their experience

In our work with the children in the young carer’s group we have seen them grow in confidence, take risks in what they share about their experiences and form close bonds with other members of the group. The children clearly valued the group from their very first workshop, making friends and telling us about what had been going on in their lives.

Unfortunately due to funding issues the workshops the children attended are no longer able to run. Some of the children began to fundraise themselves – with one girl selling all of her toys to run a reunion workshop. If you’d like to donate to this special cause please visit Blenheim’s JustGiving page or contact info@blenheimcdp.org.uk.

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