Leanne Smullen-Bethell is head of house at Phoenix’s National Specialist Family Service, where people can seek treatment for their substance use problems while staying together as a family. She tells us about her role.
I’ve worked here for 11 years. I have a passion for supporting people with addiction problems and the opportunity to work with mums and dads who are trying to overcome addiction really interested me.
The day starts by checking how the parents are feeling. We discuss activities for the day and arrange appointments. There will be a group session of therapy followed by lunch. The children will be cared for by our lovely childcare team whilst the parents take part in the therapy session. Afternoons can vary – sometimes there will be a one-to-one session with a key worker, activities like bowling, swimming, walks to the park or parent and child play sessions. There may also be appointments with midwives, health visitors or social care professionals. Children are settled in the evening for adults to take part in recreational group sessions and relaxation time before bed.
Our family service provides comprehensive care focused on assessing child development and wellbeing, as well as making observations around parenting. The work done by our childcare team is crucial in helping us deliver our programme. Our nursery is Ofsted registered, and rated ‘outstanding’.
We give parents a chance to come to our service with their children– this is unusual as we are the only service in the UK that supports dads as well as mums. We really believe in giving all parents an opportunity to be with their children, and for children to be with their parents. There are 2.9m lone parent families in the UK and 90 per cent of those are children with an absent father.
We help families to stop using drugs or alcohol dependently and become more stable parents. We offer support through the later stages of pregnancy, childbirth and into the early stages of parenting. We work with mums and dads to work through difficult emotions and daily challenges so that they no longer feel the need to use substances to function.
When we see people come to the service completely broken, desperate for help, we offer them a safe place to work on their recovery with their children. Without the work that we do most of those kids would end up in the care system. We give hope to families where they may have had none – and the programme works.
The service has a really high success rate – 85 per cent of families successfully recover and leave the service with their children, which is a wonderful thing – particularly considering the national average success rate for residential treatment is 57 per cent.
Christmas is just around the corner and it’s a really magical time here at the family service. We have a big Christmas lunch with presents and lots of food and activities. We decorate the house and everyone really gets involved. We really try to create opportunities for families to make memories.
If there’s one thing I would change it would be to give more chances to enter the service. Access to a specialist residential service such as the one I manage in Sheffield is really hard – not because we can’t or won’t accept more families but because accessing the opportunities for parents with addiction problems can be more challenging. A big fear for families is that if they ask for help they are at risk of their children being taken into care. If more local authorities invested in supporting mums and dads to improve their lives earlier, that may prevent parent and child separation further down the line through the courts.
To anyone considering a similar career, I would say: if helping people is your passion, then go for it. A career in addiction services can be the most rewarding job of all. Knowing that you can help someone who is broken to rebuild their life is just amazing. You get to meet lots of really interesting people and have the privilege of hearing their stories and being a part of their recovery journey. What can be better than that?