Charities Comic Relief and Mentor UK are backing projects to educate young people about alcohol misuse. Anabel Unity Sale reports on three of them ahead of Red Nose Day tomorrow
It’s generally thought that young people today are exposed to alcohol at an earlier age than ever. Whether through direct advertising, its portrayal in popular TV programmes or images in the tabloids of sloshed celebrities out on the town, it is understandable why many young people view drinking alcohol as an everyday occurrence. Rarely do they see the other side of the coin. Too often it is left to social care professionals to pick up the pieces when alcohol directly affects young people themselves or their families.
Two projects using innovative ways to educate and inform young people about the dangers of alcohol have been rewarded with grants from Comic Relief, and Mentor UK has funded another. We look at the work of the three winning projects.
Comic Relief’s Alcohol Hidden Harm initiative funds projects helping to reduce the risk to children and young people of alcohol abuse and to improve their overall resilience towards drinking. At the end of last year, it awarded grants to five projects in England that are due to start work this spring.
Bristol Drugs Project received £206,264 over three years for a mentoring project for young people whose parents have a history of alcohol misuse. Based on its model of supporting children of drug addicts, the project will recruit and train 10 volunteers as mentors for children affected by parental alcohol abuse. At the same time, an alcohol worker will support the parents.
The mentors will be trained how to build-up a relationship as a dependable adult and to communicate with the young person. Then they will be matched to an eight- to 16-year-old whose parent or carer uses the alcohol service. Mentors will feed back monthly to Jenny Cove, the project’s mentoring co-ordinator, who will also provide support sessions to the entire family.
“It’s unusual because it’s taking a whole family approach rather than just looking at the parents or the child,” she says. “If practitioners don’t do this you’re just changing a small part of the issue and you need to address the whole family dynamic around alcohol.”
Cove adds that the project aims to establish youth groups for the children and young people.
Leeds-based Base 10 is part of the national alcohol and drug misuse charity Lifeline. The organisation applied to Comic Relief for funding to build upon the work it has done for nearly 10 years to support the children of adult drug and alcohol misusers. With a three-year grant of £130,000, a full-time worker will join in April to establish a multi-agency approach to working with five local agencies, all of which are addressing parental alcohol misuse.
Base 10 is working alongside Women’s Aid’s children and family team, ethnic minority refuge Sahara, Willow Young Carers and children’s housing charity Chiva, Base 10 plans to develop resources for the individual needs of children and young people. The packs will include group activities and information on building self-confidence, identifying support networks, ways to stay safe and understanding alcohol use.
“This is a way to make our service more accessible for hard-to-reach clients,” says Richard Garland, service manager at Base 10. “Group work shows children and young people that they are not alone, their parents’ alcohol misuse is not their fault and they have a right to their feelings.”
He recommends that any work with children and young people whose parents misuse alcohol should be based as much on what the young person has identified as what they wish to gain from the experience.
Mentor UK is a not-for-profit NGO to prevent drug abuse. It recently presented Lancashire Council’s young person’s alcohol project with a Mentor UK award for its Lookout Alcohol website for children and young people, their parents and teachers to learn about alcohol use and misuse. The project was one of three tackling alcohol misuse to win £10,000 prize money and £10,000 worth of mentoring and consultancy work.
Set up in 2004, the project consulted 1,000 nine- to 13-year-olds and found many had negative views about alcohol but had already used it. A gap was also identified in alcohol education resources for primary schools. The project acted upon the young people’s suggestion to create, Lookout Alcohol. Although aimed at Lancashire’s 26,594 nine- to 11-year-olds, the website has had hits from China, Russia and North America. It also has a section for adults.
The website includes an interactive game for children to identify the risks of alcohol misuse in different locations. “The children wanted a futuristic game so children could use it,” says Lancashire Council’s young persons’ alcohol project manager, Samantha Beetham. “They wanted the locations to be a school and community centre so they could relate to it. Young people need to know that alcohol affects all of their environments.”
This article is published in the 12 March 2009 edition of Community Care under the headline “Special measures”