Healthy haven

People who misuse drugs and alcohol often lead chaotic lifestyles. And the education, health and welfare of children in their care can suffer accordingly. The Harbour Project, winner of Community Care’s Drug and Alcohol award, works with the whole family to respond to the needs of these children.

Family Service Units (FSU) Scotland recognised the barriers that prevent parents from successfully gaining access to services. “Services which run by strict appointments don’t offer enough flexibility for families living messy lives. They don’t get there on time or they can’t go because they don’t have anyone to look after their children. They become failures of the treatment agencies,” says Linda Hunt, chairperson of the FSU Scotland Committee.

In partnership with the City of Edinburgh Council’s Drug Action Team, FSU Scotland developed the Harbour Project to support families in making the best use of the services available. Initially, it received funding from the Children’s Fund for two posts. “The money was specifically for use with families where parental drug and alcohol misuse was impacting on the children and was for agencies that had experience of working with families,” says Liz Dahl, director of FSU Scotland and Harbour Project manager. The project later received funding for two further posts.

The families’ needs are the driving force in this project. Dahl says: “The aim is to help parents manage their alcohol and drug abuse in a way that makes a healthier lifestyle for the family”.

The project works with parents to develop parenting skills and to restore self-esteem, independence and control. It aims to improve school attendance and the relationship between parents and schools.

“A lot of work has been done in people’s homes to help parents learn how to play with their kids and enjoy it. Playing, going swimming and so on, all the things other people take for granted,” says Hunt.

One parent says: “I used to hate going up to the school, I felt everybody was looking at me. With the project I now look forward to going to school to pick him up.”

Izzie Buchan, the project’s family school worker, says: “The schools saw immediate benefits – attendance went up and children were getting there on time.”

Hunt says: “We work in a way which enables people to do it themselves – it’s not a dependency model – we work with them to where the family can stand alone.”

Outreach worker Julie Murphy adds: “We’ve done our job when we’re not needed any more.”

The project maintains a dialogue with other agencies that work with the families and Dahl believes it is most effective when in close partnership with these agencies.

For example, with drug agency Turning Point, the project identified a need for family focused provision, which offered child care, opportunities for family development and was free from the stigma of drug services. A family health group was set up that meets weekly in a local community centre. It provides access to a trained drug worker and a range of complementary therapies, links to other services and creche facilities. The £5,000 prize money will fund more of these groups.

Winning the award “left us astounded… we couldn’t believe it – it was wonderful,” Dahl says. She attributes their success to the project’s holistic approach to working with the whole family, maintaining close relationships with other agencies and being based in the community where “there truly is easy access for people”.

– Contact Liz Dahl on 0131 552 0305 for more information.

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