November 2009

Closing the gaps

Services must link to provide a stronger net.

‘We asked for help and ended up blamed.’ Sue Foreman’s story gives harrowing insight into the desperate isolation experienced by a family struggling to help their son with multiple problems (page 6). Knocking on the doors of drug and alcohol services, doctors, mental health, social services, the local authority, and learning disability services brought the family nothing but false hope for a short while, until they were packed off to chase the next possible lead. Meanwhile their son was becoming unreachable. The help did not come and time literally ran out for him. Why is it in such a situation that the more services that could help, the bigger the gaps between them? Why did the frequent brushes with the law and the episodes in A&E not flag up that this was a young man with severe problems for whom prison remands were the least appropriate solution? Not only was he being set up to fail, as his mother points out, but the whole family was let down repeatedly in so many contexts. Sue hopes her story will raise awareness of the plight of young people who slip between services and we thank her for going back over such painful memories to do exactly that.

Addaction’s Breaking the cycle project (page page 14) aims to sidestep the mountain of bureaucracy that stood in front of Sue at every turn and keeps track of each family’s progress, showing project workers what’s working and what’s not – a route to holistic family interventions that would have given her family a much better chance of getting help. From his perspective as a social worker, Tony Wright offers thoughts on improving communication skills and avoiding the risk of subjective assessments (page 13). And on page 10, Vic Motune looks at how Oldham’s Reaching Out project is making sure cultural issues do not cloud the issue for families seeking help. In our fifth anniversary issue, we hope sharing experiences and the ideas for better practice will help to steer services away from the tragedies that should never happen.

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