Working with Families
14 May 2017 marks National Children’s Day, which places emphasis on the importance of a healthy, happy childhood. 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 and families who are having difficulties because of parental use of alcohol or other drugs. Peter Shearer, a Project Worker at our CASA Family Service told us more about his essential work with these families.
CASA Family Service was established in Islington in 2006 to support families where there is parental drug or alcohol use. We see the whole family as our “client”, with children’s needs as the priority. Our aim is to move the family focus away from substance use and instead put raising children at the centre of family life.
Along with the common ups and downs that all families face, families who have experienced parental drug and alcohol use often also face stigmatisation and the resulting isolation.
Isolation can also result in substance users feeling blamed and misunderstood or partners feeling unheard and powerless to change things for the better. Children in particular will often feel that any difficulties in the family are their fault; ‘if only I did not fight with my little brother’, ‘if only I did better at school, then dad would not drink’ or ‘mum would not use drugs’. In this confusion, everyday challenges can soon become overwhelming.
But with the right support, children and families can make changes that will both prevent negative behaviour and make family life much more enjoyable and rewarding for everyone. The key to this is helping everyone to talk about their experiences with each other in a non-blaming way, to truly listen and understand each other without feeling the need to change how the other person feels or excuse or justify past mistakes. Supporting families to do fun things together no matter what else is going on in their lives is also vital.
A CASA Family service user, aged 14, said: “I feel like I have a place to talk about stuff that most people don’t understand.”
CASA Family Service has been doing this work for over 10 years now and during this time we have gained vast experience of the best ways to help families. So much of what we have learned is due to the courage and generosity of families who have used the service; we feel privileged to have been allowed into their lives and to have been a part of their recovery journey.
Hidden Harm services look at the harm drug and alcohol abuse causes those around the user, particularly children, and we were one of the first to be set up in the UK and are one of the few to offer support individually tailored to each family’s needs. We believe this approach and working in a direct but relaxed way is vital to our success as a service.
When talking to children about drugs and alcohol we recommend being honest in an age appropriate way and are more interested in how it feels to love and live with a drug or alcohol user than the mechanics of substance use itself.
Everyone feels such relief when things can be spoken about freely this makes it understandable why so many families and children have such a strong attachment for the service. When the funding for our Family Workshops ceased, the children who attended immediately set about coming up with ideas to raise funds. A few weeks later one 10 year old girl visited the service with her Granma and presented us with £80 she had raised by selling her toys. With her agreement the money was used to run a very successful reunion workshop, for all the families that had attended the workshops.
If you would like to make a donation to help CASA Family Service continue their work with families in Islington please visit our Just Giving page.