Children of Alcohol Dependent Parents
At the end of May 2020, Gareth Davies, Head of the National Audit Office said:
“I cannot remember such a period of bravery in public services as during the COVID-19 pandemic.” We have seen some of that in the tenacity, ingenuity and willingness to do things differently amongst the projects involved in the Children of Alcohol Dependent Parents (CADeP) programme.
The programme was launched in December 2018. The aim has been to allow local innovation in nine areas which will lead to better identification and support for families where a parent has an alcohol problem and to explore how to reduce parental conflict in those families.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been, and remains, challenging to many, and there is serious concern that temporarily hidden issues will be revealed after lockdown ends. Opinion polls carried out for Alcohol Change UK, for example, makes it clear that parental drinking has been raising tensions in some households. This is backed up by data released by the National Association for Children of Alcoholics (Nacoa) who report a 40% increase in contacts in April and May in comparison to 2019.
The Tavistock Institute is responsible for evaluating this project – included engaging with the nine areas to explore how they have responded to the current situation:
- what they have been doing differently
- what has worked well and not so well
This has revealed some surprises, particularly relating to how lockdown has facilitated new ways of working. But we have also identified many challenges. From the contact that we have had with CADeP projects across the country, we know that a lot of work is being done to support vulnerable families during the lockdown period.
All nine areas very quickly switched to delivering their services online as a way of keeping in touch with families.
“[Group meetings] are still being attended over Zoom – they are better attended in fact. Doing this electronically has been a quick win”.
One immediate advantage of this has been that staff now can work with more people each day as they spend less time travelling to visit families or delivery sites. In some cases, parents have also found it easier to access the support they need – as they can do this from their own home, without the need for travel or having to arrange care for their children.
Some young people also preferred talking online rather than face-to-face or keeping in touch via text or other forms of direct messaging. This mode of contact was something several services hoped to keep using even after lockdown as it is seen as a good way to keep in touch on a more regular basis.
“The online and phone support is working really well and is engaging people who are sometimes less engaged with [the normal system of support]. So, this is something that we would like to apply to the new ‘normal’ after lockdown finishes”.
But some families have limited access to the internet or cannot find a safe space in their own home to talk about issues they are facing. Therapists also said that delivering support by phone or online does not work for all clients:
“…it is hard to read how things really are when you’re not face-to-face”.
They feared that some parents may be hiding particular issues and that these may reach a crisis point before they are revealed.
For young people, it was also often thought to be difficult to explore thoughts and feelings about parental alcohol use and conflict when they are in places that are not necessarily safe or within earshot of their parents. This is particularly an issue for younger children who do not own a smartphone or do not have unsupervised access to the internet. This means that in some cases particular types of support – including group work with the whole family or therapeutic services for children – has had to stop.
Some areas have adopted new ways to keep in touch with families and children during this period, as illustrated by the following example:
Activity packs and essential groceries in Haringey
The project in Haringey recognised that many families were struggling with the lockdown and keeping children entertained, particularly those on a tight budget and living in crowded environments. They have provided families with children’s activity packs along with essential groceries to help ease some of the pressures on parents and carers and to enable children to take part in creative activities with their families; and shared a list of links to parents via email for online educational resources, external services and information on how to talk to children about COVID-19. Feedback from parents has been very positive:
“Hi, OMG what a wonderful activity pack! Megan is super chuffed; thank you so much! Can’t wait to get started on the activities together!’ ; ‘Thank you so much for the Easter Package…we love it! Give everyone who helped a big virtual hug from me and Billy.”
Despite the challenges experienced, it is clear that the work that has continued during lockdown has been valuable for many of the families that CADeP projects are supporting and that systems and services are learning important lessons about how to meet the needs of vulnerable children and families. This will be further explored in the ongoing evaluation of the project.
If you want to find out more about the evaluation, contact Thomas Spielhofer
For more details about the CADeP project, please contact Andrew K Brown