For more than 20 years Phoenix has been delivering residential services that support parents while they are still looking after their children. These services are whole-family interventions. They deliver treatment to the parents for substance use and help develop parenting skills while providing care and developmental support to their children.
Studies show that alcohol and drug problems can be transmitted across generations via complex biological, psychological, and social processes.
This generational transmission can come from being in close proximity to people using drugs and alcohol as well as the trauma and deprivation that comes from living in a family experiencing addiction. Any type of support for people with children has a protective and restorative influence for the family unit. Recovery seeps through families, but there is added benefit to providing support that is specifically tailored to supporting the whole family.
Phoenix has two services in the UK that offer whole-family interventions – Harper House specialist family service in Scotland and our Sheffield-based specialist family service supporting England and Wales. Both work to prevent the harms of intergenerational substance use and poor mental health, and improve wellbeing.
The family unit is the centre of the whole programme, and a lot of time is spent preparing each member of the family for the time they will spend with us. This can include visiting the service and, in some cases, spending the night with us before a placement starts. We work with social workers, keyworkers, housing support workers, nurseries and schools to help prepare the family and on arrival allocate a more senior community member as a buddy to help them settle into the programme.
Harper House, offers responsive aftercare for 18 months to two years after the programme is finished and we link families in with doctors, social services, schools, recovery networks and support networks in their local area. The families leave with all the tools to sustain a happy and healthy life.
‘So, I now feel when I leave here, I won’t feel like I’ve been in this rehab for three months and then flung back into life,’ said a community member at Harper House. ‘Because I’m waking up with my daughter here, I’m making breakfast, I’m ironing her clothes, I’m getting her out to school, and then I’m doing work on myself in here. I’m working on my recovery, which is going to help everything. When she’s getting in from school, I’m being a mother.’
Our family services are not just residential therapeutic communities with a crèche – all the childcare is registered provision that supports the developmental needs of each child, whether babies, toddlers, or older children, and in Sheffield we’re one of a few childcare settings in the city to be awarded an outstanding grading by OFSTED.
Harper House is a new service, but we’re already seeing significant improvements in child development. The headteacher at the local primary school commented, ‘We hope more families get the chance to access Harper House. One of the children has progressed three reading stages since he has been staying at Harper House – this is incredible in such a short space of time.’
The treatment completion rates from our family services are consistently high year on year, demonstrating that families can do better if they can stay together. While many families come to us in the midst of care proceedings, a study across our Sheffield family service following 41 parents and 42 children found that 70 per cent of families were still together up to four years after completing treatment. We have an average completion rate of 86 per cent across all our family services.
Providing a treatment approach that supports the whole family keeps children safely outside of the care system, and breaks down barriers for parents accessing treatment as they know they won’t have to be separated from their children. We believe that whole family approaches should be available to all families experiencing addiction and should be considered before the decision is made to remove children into the care system and separate families.
Michaela Dean is registered manager at Phoenix Futures specialist family service, Sheffield