Family Matters

More for less Adfam’s new survey showed family services are struggling to stretch scant resources to answer a surge in demand, says Joss Smith.

Raising and sustaining funds is often the biggest challenge faced by voluntary sector providers, especially within the current economic landscape. There is some evidence from NCVO that the budgetary cuts and harsh economic conditions are disproportionately affecting the voluntary sector and donations also reportedly dropped by 20 per cent between 2010/11 and 2011 /12. 

Within this context Adfam set out to examine how this financial environment is affecting services which offer support for the families of drug and alcohol users, aiming to highlight any trends and understand the impact on the sector as a whole. A concurrent aim was to explore how family support services are adapting and responding to the challenges they face – for example how they are arguing their case in a more competitive funding environment, and how they demonstrate the effectiveness of their work.

The results of Adfam’s survey highlighted a few clear, if not hugely surprising, trends, often mirroring the state of the voluntary sector as a whole. Almost three-quarters of the family support services who responded said that their overall level of funding had either decreased or remained static over the last two years, and over half reported having no reserves. Nine out of ten respondents reported that the demand for their service had increased over the past two years and they saw no sign of this abating. Overall, services supporting families affected by drugs and alcohol are trying to provide more for less, seeing an upsurge in demand for their support alongside a reduction in the resources with which to deliver it.

Although the results paint a very unsure picture for the future of family support services, these organisations are working hard to adapt and are considering a variety of different options to navigate the tricky terrain. Of course, simply hiring more volunteers without training, supporting and supervising them, or firing off funding applications far and wide without reference to their relevance or purpose, serves nobody; action still needs to be taken in a logical, well-planned and properly thought-out manner. But the willingness of family support services to engage with change is cause for optimism that they recognise the realities of the environment they have found themselves operating in and are working creatively to address their funding gaps.

We may also see family support services moving more and more towards utilitarian arguments that their service helps enhance the outcomes of drug and alcohol treatment, bring down crime, save children from going into state care and improve mental health in the community – even if this wasn’t the main priority when the service was set up in the first place. Some could see this as ‘mission drift’ for these organisations – however it could also be viewed as a means of survival. 

Joss Smith is director or policy and regional development at Adfam. Funding family support can be found on Adfam’s website,