New ways of engaging young people are being explored in Lancashire thanks to a government-funded project. Non-alcohol specialist staff are getting extra training and early intervention work is taking place with teenagers and families.
Lancashire has a well-established substance misuse service aimed at young people. For the past decade it has been run by the Young Addaction charity. The service is split across three areas – central, east and north. It accepts referrals for young people under the age of 25.
The majority of people offered treatment are aged 15 to 18 and tend to be referred for alcohol misuse along with cannabis addiction. The service offers a variety of psychosocial interventions and, where needed, drug treatment.
Referrals come from a variety of sources, including schools, hospitals, the criminal justice system and from families themselves. One of the problems traditionally faced is that young people are only given help once their problems have become entrenched.
The solution The Future Foundations project was launched in April 2019 thanks to funding from the Department for Health and Social Care and Department for Work and Pensions.
Three staff were recruited to run the oneyear programme – two key workers from the existing service and a member of staff from the Amy Winehouse Foundation.
There are three components to the Future Foundations programme.
Firstly, the team has started offering oneday training workshops for frontline staff to increase knowledge, skills and confidence in how to identify and support children of parents misusing alcohol.
This training is aimed at any staff who come into contact with children, including school staff, GPs, family workers, social workers and police and probation staff.
Future Foundations project lead Lisa Nicolson said: “Staff are very aware of the adult treatment options, but less so about what is available to children and young people, and how best to intervene.
“We spend time going through how to have different conversations, the overlapping things to look for and where to refer on. It is not just us – there are lots of different services and support out there.
“We also knew we had to look at different ways of supporting young people before problems develop. Growing up in an environment where there is problem drinking and other substance misuse increases the risk of the child developing problems.
“Our treatment services work well, but they are largely designed around those who have already started misusing.”
In response, the second two parts of the project were developed. Skills for Change is aimed at children aged 11 to 19 and mainly involves groups in settings such as schools, youth clubs and sports venues.
The sessions, which are aimed at building resilience and improving emotional wellbeing and self-esteem, are aimed at both the general population and those who are particularly at risk through parental drinking.
Meanwhile, Animate 8 is an arts-based approach for families, particularly those with younger children. It encourages families to explore feelings and the impact of substance misuse through drawing.
The Future Foundations work only started running in spring 2019, but within four months more than 50 frontline professionals have received the training – well on the way to achieving the target of 100 by March 2020.
The Skills for Change and Animate 8 workshops took a little longer to get up-andrunning, but they too have now started having an impact.
One of the exercises that has proved particularly successful in Animate 8 has seen key workers asking children to draw an animal to represent their parents.
Ms Nicholson said: “One child drew a grizzly bear surrounded by bottles. The dad saw it and you could see it made him think. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.
“The whole point is to get parents thinking about their drinking and the impact. Tackling these problems early is much better than picking up the pieces when things have gone horribly wrong.”
Despite the progress, Ms Nicholson acknowledges there are still challenges to overcome as the project develops in the coming months. “We have been much better at engaging mothers than fathers. I think men are much more reluctant to open up and feel the need to keep what goes on inside the family. “It is something we are looking to tackle. You have to constantly look at new ways to engage people.”
How is the approach being sustained?
The desire to innovate is something that has spread across the service. For example, the core teams have recently started running a digital pilot, which involves key workers keeping in touch with young clients via WhatsApp.
The initial assessments and core part of the treatment is still done face-to-face, but then the regular follow-up checks up can be done digitally.
Gregg Marshall, the team leader for the central Lancashire team, said: “It has proved really popular. Clearly young people use mobile technologies a lot so it makes sense to make the service accessible this way.
“The other benefit is that it allows our staff to see more people. They are not travelling such huge distances to see people. That is important at a time when there is pressure on budgets.”
Lancashire is also taking a close look at how it can further integrate alcohol and substance misuse services with social care. One option being considered is embedding some adult and young people’s substance misuse workers with social care teams.
Lancashire County Council Public Health Specialist Chris Lee said: “For a number of people alcohol and drug use leads to social care needs so it makes sense to have substance misuse workers embedded with our social care teams.
“Hopefully it will mean we can reach out to people at an earlier stage and stop things spiralling out of control.”
Chris Lee Public Health Specialist Lancashire County Council firstname.lastname@example.org