Monday, 30 June 2008

Government needs to provide genuine support for families

I’m sitting here on the other side of the world (on holiday) looking through articles in Drink and Drugs News. I have read the excellent article by David Gilliver, entitled “Family Matters’, with mixed feelings.

I’m really pleased that David has written this article and highlighted the needs of family members of people with substance use problems. At the same time, I am saddened and very concerned by the fact that David has had to write an article on the same issue (i.e. lack of funding and support for families) that I focused on in ‘Family Misfortune’ over three and a half years ago in DDN.

The header to my article included the statement, ‘Far too little attention and support is given to the families and carers of people with a substance misuse problem.’ David’s header included the statement, Many services are ignoring the fact that family members need support too’. In my opinion, the UK treatment system has not moved on much in helping family members during the three and a half year intervening period between the articles (please write in if you feel I am wrong).

True, there have been fantastic efforts by individuals around the country, which has resulted in the setting up of new family support groups and help to people who would not have otherwise received help. But this help has generally been achieved without a full commitment from the treatment system.

True, there is a commitment in the new drugs strategy to helping family members. However, what else could the government do - and let’s see a strong financial commitment before we get excited about this. Moreover, where is the commitment to the family members affected by a loved one’s alcohol misuse?

I first talked to Christine McEvoy of the Leicester-based family-based service Snowdrop about four years ago (gosh, was it really that long ago!?) and I really admired her determination to help family members. I am really pleased to see that she is still working in the field, but saddened to hear that she is still struggling to get support.

When we know that on average a person with a substance use problem negatively impacts on at least four other family members and loved ones, it seems so obvious that the system should be providing more support to family members to deal with their problems that have been caused indirectly by a loved one’s substance use. We at Wired In became very frustrated over a period of a number of years because we could not attract funding to support an initiative focused on developing and maintaining a web community for family members, an environment that would help many people understand their problems and help them along the path to overcoming them. What we wanted to do was so obviously needed – and obviously would be of great benefit. Our failure to gain support really annoyed me at times.

I’d like to pick up on two quotes in David’s article. Firstly, one from Christine McEvoy: ‘I’ve had meetings with the NTA and DAATs and it still feels as though people aren’t listening, or not acting on it if they are. I’d love to go and meet the government face to face in their cosy offices. They’re always banging the drum about how important families are and the holistic approach, yet there’s so little family support – let them put their money where their mouth is.’ I also challenge the NTA to put their money where their mouth is, and put it in a place where it is going to achieve the greatest effectiveness. The NTA will obviously have money for this agenda given what has been said in the new drugs strategy – please use it wisely and keep the funding coming over time. Don’t just provide a piece a tokenism.

Secondly, a quote from Vivienne Evans, CEO of Adfam, who has worked tirelessly in pushing the family agenda for a number of years: ‘Obviously it would be great if there was a specialist support service for carers and family members in every locality. If I’m being realistic, that’s not going to happen,…’

Now, I’m not sure what Vivienne means precisely by a ‘locality’, but the latter part of her statement can be construed in a negative manner. It sounds as if Viv feels that we are not going to realistically get what we should have. The trouble with this attitude, and the low expectations it conveys – isn’t it sad that we have been beaten down to having such low expectations - is that the government is going to be less likely to give what is urgently needed

So, let me say strongly and clearly, ‘The government(s) needs to commit itself to providing substantial funding for specialist support service for carers and family members to be developed around the country. These need to be connected by an information infrastructure that facilitates the work of individual organisations and helps them contribute more effectively to the greater whole.’

I’m not going to get bogged down in the nitty-grittys of this statement here, but I would be more than happy talking to senior members of government if they were willing to sit down and have serious discussions followed by the delivery of serious support.


Mike said...

I can do no more than whole heartedly agree with your views in respect of family support. Although no longer working directly with families affected by other's substance use I still have strategic responsibility now that I am employed in a DAAT. Yet even though there is a determination and commitment in the DAAT to provide appropriate and adequate support there is a large short fall in available funding – the government really do need to put their money where their rhetoric is.

This being said I believe there also needs to be a wider understanding of the issues outside of the "substance use field". A possible glimpse of light could be in the new Carers Strategy that has, as far as I can remember, for the first time specifically mentioned carers who provide support for substance users. We will have to see how the implementation of the strategy is actually carried out by local authorities and area partnerships –but here’s hoping!

Anonymous said...

i am an ex heroin and crack user and have been drug free for 7 years i am now a family intervention worker supporting families not enough is been done by a long shot to support the families i couldnt have turned my life around without the love and support from my family for one persons substance misuse ten loved ones are effected says it all we are lucky in newcastle but i no there are a lot of dats accross the country are not intrested in the families effected by drugs and alcohol thankyou simon johnson NEWCASTLE PROPS