An oasis for young people

A Brighton-based support group for young
people whose mothers misuse drugs and alcohol won their category at
this year’s Community Care awards. Alison Miller reports.

“Cool!”, “Wicked!” “Fantastic!” These were
among the comments of young people from the 8-16s Support Group on
hearing they were the winning project in the drugs and alcohol
category at the Community Care awards.

The group is one of a wide range of services
offered by the Brighton Oasis Project – a project that works with
women who are misusing drugs or alcohol or both. It also offers a
crŠche for clients’ children from birth to eight, a drop-in
centre, a structured day programme, family work sessions, a
positive parenting group and an outreach service for female sex

The 8-16s group was formed specifically to
help children who are affected by their mothers’ substance misuse,
and is the only service in the area to work with the children of
substance misusers. More than half the women with whom it works
have children on the at-risk register, and others have children who
are in foster care. Some women are involved in crime to support
their habit, and others work in the sex industry.

People refer themselves, but referrals also
come from the probation service – some women attend as part of a
drug treatment and testing order, schools, the youth inclusion
project and the young carers’ project. The group is funded by
Children’s Promise, and support worker Tania Soley is the only paid
staff member, but she has recruited a keen team of volunteer
workers who immerse themselves in the group work.

At first, the group made contact with the
children informally through the creche attended by their brothers
and sisters. “We realised there was a need for a service for the
older children who we felt would benefit from having time and space
just for them,” Soley explains.

Before the group started, the women and
children were consulted about how they wanted it to work, and Soley
believes that this involvement has allowed the project to deliver a
service that the children feel they own. The 8-16s group opened its
doors in May last year, and now meets twice a week.

The group gives children the chance to share
their concerns and experiences with others in the same situation.
“Peer support is a vital part of what we do,” Soley says. “Many
feel unable to tell their friends at school about what is happening
at home. Sometimes they are worried and protective because of the
illegality of their parents’ drug use, and they fear the family
will be broken up if people find out what their parent is doing.
The group gives them the space to talk to other children in the
same situation, or to talk confidentially to workers.”

She adds that many children have become very
adept at hiding their chaotic home life from the outside world, and
in that sense they can be very hard to reach. “They have probably
had to grow up quite quickly and have become very self-sufficient,
but just because they seem to be OK doesn’t mean they are,” she

The group members set the ground rules, and
meetings are lively with a mixture of creative activities and group
work – members have designed a wall mural and posters, made mosaics
and, more recently, working with clay models has led the group to
some simple animation work, and they are very keen to continue with

Soley says young people gain confidence from
taking part in the activities and from learning new skills, and are
given the opportunity to express the issues that are relevant to
them – it’s very much their group.

Winning the award obviously means a lot to
everyone. “It was brilliant, amazing and gave a real boost to the
whole project,” says Soley, who is hopeful that their success will
help the project secure funding for her post to ensure the work can

They plan to spend the £4,000 prize money
to build on the group’s film-making interest by buying a digital
camcorder and a computer with video editing software.

– The drugs and alcohol category was sponsored

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