Brighton drugs and alcohol project aims to keep families together

Brighton Family Service is living up to the city’s reputation for doing things differently. For the drug and alcohol rehabilitation provider is certainly different: the service, as its name suggests, puts the focus on the family rather than the individual and lets parents continue to live with and care for their children while they tackle their substance misuse problems.

Based in what seems just another large family house on a typical residential Brighton street, the service, run by Phoenix Futures, offers six-month placements to parents and children up to age 11. Although mothers and fathers can be catered for, most clients are single mothers.

Not all parents who are allocated one of Phoenix House’s seven family rooms are drug- or alcohol-free on admission. However, a detoxification service is offered so they can address their addiction without being separated from their family.

article page 24 26 July issueKaren Krasnuik, the service’s acting business manager, says funding for the child is usually provided by a local authority children and family team. Adults are funded separately through drug and alcohol teams.

Jane* has been living at Phoenix House since February with her 18-month-old daughter. It is the second time she has joined the service’s 26-week rehabilitation programme – the first time she left just five weeks into the programme.

Jane says she is lucky to have been offered another place at Phoenix House, which this time has helped her stay drug-free. “Not only have I gained getting clean and keeping my child, but I’ve made really good friendships here too,” she says.

Karen Richardson, the service’s family drugs worker, says it is this sense of community at Phoenix House that helps reinforce the support programme offered to families.

Days are clearly structured, with group work in the mornings followed by key work sessions in the afternoon. Young children are cared for at the centre’s crèche while parents attend sessions and appointments.

“We have morning and evening routines with the children many of our residents don’t do that,” says Richardson. “When we have older children, they understand they have to be in their room by a certain time.”

A “no shouting” policy, which helps ensure a calm environment, is also enforced, adds Richardson. “We teach parents how to play with their kids. Some of them have never told them stories at bedtime.”

Krasnuik explains that each child at the centre will have an individual care plan and regular monitoring. Before their arrival, they will be registered with a local GP and dentist.

article p24 26 julyDepending on their age, children can attend playgroups, nurseries and schools in the local community. However, parents remain fully responsible for their children as well as their own upkeep.

Krasnuik says the centre’s priority has to be child-focused, particularly on child protection issues. “Every assessment of the child’s development is reported to the children and family team and we follow the assessment framework,” she says.

Acting service manager Sam Kirwan has seen several success stories since she joined the service six years ago.

One of the main challenges is helping clients sufficiently within the programme’s six-month timeframe. “When you are dealing with an individual who may have been using [drugs] for 10 to 20 years, six months is not a long time,” she says.

But the benefit of the service to children of parents battling substance addiction can be huge. And, importantly, the parental bond is not jeopardised by taking a child into care.

“Children get support and education here,” says Kirwan. “They can get up every day and wear clean clothes. All their basic needs are met.”

Despite this, some children can face difficulties, particularly if a strained parent-child relationship exists, says Krasnuik. “We had one little girl who was angry with her mum to be here because it meant she couldn’t see her friends. But by the end they had developed a mother-daughter relationship, which was fabulous.”

Lucy*, who joined a detox programme after becoming pregnant with her daughter, is grateful for the time she has spent at Phoenix House.

She says it is difficult to imagine how she would have coped without having her child living with her. “If I hadn’t come here, I would still be out there using [drugs],” she says. “Sometimes having a baby is not enough to get you clean. You need time and somewhere to help you stay clean.”

* Names have been changed

➔ Telephone the Brighton Family Service on 01273 558645 or e-mail

What works

Hold regular progress reviews involving social services.
Promote healthy living as a family.
Address family relationship issues.
Encourage residents to develop parenting skills.
Empower residents to introduce routines and boundaries in a family setting.
Onward referral to agencies when families leave.

This article appeared in the 26 July issue under the headline “A clean break…together”

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