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Family advocacy in action

Families of people with co-existing substance use and mental ill health face a constant struggle to navigate the complex system they are faced with, frequently finding their loved ones falling between the gaps of public services leaving family members to pick up the pieces. As part of our research on dual diagnosis we've spoken to families all across the country, and heard first-hand the challenges they face.

“There are so many aspects to pick apart here; how addiction services deal with mental health, how mental health services deal with addiction. It’s almost like one doesn’t exist to the other. I feel like most of the time we’ve been banging our heads against a brick wall.”

Thanks to funding from the Sir Halley Stewart Trust we've set up a peer support and advocacy group for family members to meet others in similar situations and share their experiences on influential platforms. We were delighted to enact the first stage of this last week, venturing into the heart of Government for a meeting at the Home Office, specifically focusing on the impact of dual diagnosis on families.

The meeting was attended by policy-makers and representatives from the Home Office, Department of Health and Social Care and Public Health England. Family members shared and discussed their experiences, which as well as being a beneficial and enriching, allowed our partners in Government to hear family experiences first-hand.

Family group members before the meeting

Thanks to the Home Office for hosting us, and to members of our group for bravely and honestly sharing their experiences.

If you are a family member supporting a loved one with a dual diagnosis and living within access of central London you are very welcome to join our group. To find out more please download our flyer (pdf) or drop me a line.

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Moving on

After more than eight happy, and I hope fruitful, years I am leaving Adfam at the end of this month. When I joined the organisation in 2010 Gordon Brown was Prime Minister, Paul Hayes was CE of the National Treatment Agency and Fabio Capello was the England manager. None of them wore waistcoats.

Many things have changed since then in politics, policy and football. Government interest in our agenda has waxed and waned. Policy initiatives have been born, died and resurrected. Gareth Southgate has become an exemplar of modern leadership and moral courage. As someone who remembers schoolmates stabbing his newspaper image with a compass after that penalty miss in 1996 this has been quite the turnaround!

Others things haven’t changed at all. There’s still many people in our society struggling with drug or alcohol use as a result of trauma, fragile mental health and their precarious social and economic environments. There’s still millions of people affected by their troubles. And there’s very many parents, children, siblings, partners and friends who love those people dearly and who go through a daily purgatory supporting them to become healthier and happier. The resilience, humour, compassion and insights of the many family members I’ve spoken to, and worked with, over the years has been incredible. And I believe that Adfam, with its fairly rare mix of direct and strategic work, has made a significant contribution to the issue, and certainly been a wonderful organisation to work for.

Most surprising for me, perhaps, is that I’m now succeeding Paul Hayes in the leadership of a national organisation. I’ll be starting my new role at the helm of Collective Voice in mid-August and hope to continue to advocate for families within the wider context of support and treatment. If you'd like to keep in touch feel free to connect on twitter or Linked In or Medium.

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Putting families first in alcohol policy

Tuesday 3 July 2018 was a momentous day for the Alcohol and Families Alliance. It saw almost 50 people – including MPs, an array of organisations from the alcohol and children and families sectors, and those with lived experience – gather together in Parliament for the launch of Families First: an evidence-based approach to protecting UK families from alcohol-related harm.

Caroline Flint MP, Fiona Bruce MP, Steve Brine MP (Public Health Minister), Vivienne Evans (CEO, Adfam) and Liam Byrne MP at the launch of Families First. Photo: Institute of Alcohol Studies.

This bold plan argues for children and families to be at the heart of the Government’s new alcohol strategy, building on the Government’s plans to help children of alcohol-dependent parents which were unveiled earlier this year. Recommendations include having evidence-based support for families affected by alcohol available in every local authority, action to better identify and support carers, better information for parents to inform their own drinking, and steps to address the wider role of alcohol in society. We know that alcohol misuse can have a devastating impact on families; now is the time to act.

This was brought home as a family member shared how her father’s alcohol problem had affected her, and how difficult it is for families to speak out. Caroline Flint MP, Fiona Bruce MP and Liam Byrne MP all spoke about the need for action, and issued a rallying cry to raise awareness of alcohol-related harm to families and fight for change.

Parliamentary Launch of Families First. Photo: Cheryl P.

And the Government is listening. Steve Brine MP, the Public Health Minister, opened the launch event with supportive comments and a commitment to officially respond to Families First as if it were a select committee report, and stressed his willingness to partner with the voluntary sector to take this forward.

This is an exciting time for the Alcohol and Families Alliance, but we must not be complacent. As Naomi Eisenstadt, Chair of the AFA, said we need to make sure that alcohol and families stays on the agenda. Adfam and the Alcohol and Families Alliance will be doing just that over the coming months.

The Alcohol and Families Alliance was set up in 2013 by Adfam and Alcohol Concern. It is now comprised of almost 40 organisations from across the alcohol and children and families sectors. Find out more at

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Support for families affected by alcohol

When you hear the phrase ‘alcohol harm’ what is the first thing you think of? Damage to your liver? Drink-driving? Anti-social behaviour? What about the impact on the drinker’s family? While problematic alcohol use can detrimentally affect individuals, it can also have a devastating impact on those closest to them. Families affected by alcohol often suffer in silence, feeling ashamed of their loved one’s drinking and stigmatised as a result, or they see heavy alcohol consumption as a ‘normal’ part of both society and family life, so don’t realise there’s a problem or that support is out there.

Support for families has been proven to be effective, and can take a variety of forms: from one-to-one work with professionals to peer support groups; from structured interventions to information leaflets. As is often the case, however, support varies a lot locally; excellent in some areas, but minimal in others, if it exists at all.

At Adfam, we passionately believe that families deserve support in their own right. No-one should have to suffer in silence because of the actions of those closest to them. Support for families should be well resourced, available in every area, and well promoted so families know it is there and how to access it.

We should be motivated not only by the clear moral argument for supporting fellow citizens at times of need, but also by the beneficial consequences and savings for society as a whole. Properly supported families can themselves support their loved ones through the challenges of life and hopefully into support, treatment and recovery. Every £1 invested in support for families affected by substance use gives £4.70 in value back to society . This includes through improving the health and wellbeing of both family members and drinkers.

We also lead the Alcohol and Families Alliance, a coalition of organisations developing and influencing policy on alcohol and families: – why not join us!

This article was first written for Public Health Today.

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Volunteers and Carers Weeks

June sees the arrival of not just one but two weeks which illuminate, and celebrate, the vital work done by groups of often overlooked people. First comes Volunteers Week (1-7 June) which rightly reminds us of the many citizens who, in the words of NCVO, “make Britain great”. Next is Carers Week (12-18 June) which does likewise for the, arguably, even less recognised people doing their best to sustain, nurture and love their nearest and dearest through times of ill emotional, mental or physical health. Both groups are immensely important to Adfam.

Whether they identify with the carers label or not – and many don't – the family members of those with drug or alcohol problems provide an enormous amount of care and support that is vital in sustaining recovery journeys. Some family members do take on extensive caring duties – research from Grandparents Plus, for instance, found that drugs and alcohol were the most common reasons grandparent carers ended up looking after their grandkids. This role may entail major life changes, with minimal additional support from the state. Whatever their situation, families are a major source of sometimes hidden “recovery capital” which enables some of our most vulnerable citizens to enter meaningful recovery and become happier and healthier people.

Many people who begin as carers end up as volunteers. There are numerous examples of organisations around the country set up by family members themselves to provide local answers to the sometimes highly troubling local questions posed by addiction in the community. Hetty's in Mansfield and Bridges in Stockton-on-Tees are two examples. Many of the groups which are set up initially by volunteers end up being commissioned by the local authority and/or receiving funding from charitable trusts and foundations. This is always great to see. Many of course rely extensively on volunteers to help reach and support the families they work with – as indeed does Adfam itself. Our national projects with bereaved people and those experiencing child-to-parent abuse, as well as our work focused in the London Boroughs of Newham and Greenwich, and the North East have volunteers as their lifeblood.

So here's a massive thanks from all of us at Adfam to both groups – you truly make Britain great.

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