Lack of Vital Support Services Causing Ongoing Harm to Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs

Listen to our podcast ‘Life with Alcohol and Drugs’ to hear from the report-writer Rebecca McColl herself about the key findings of ‘There’s Only So Much One Person Can Do’!

Our latest report ‘There’s Only So Much One Person Can Do – A ‘Deep Dive’ into Family Support in Scotland’ has identified an ongoing lack of vital support services for families affected by someone else’s substance use.

We carried out a ‘Deep Dive’ of family support services across Scotland to get a better understanding of what family support looks like across the country and how well it is resourced.

We struggled to contact numerous services which were supposed to be available for families, giving some insight into additional barriers for families who are trying to find help at a time of crisis. Email addresses and phone numbers listed online were often out of date or incorrect, or met with no response despite multiple attempts at contact.

The research found services themselves felt underfunded to meet needs in their own local community, and noted an apparent lack of urgency to invest in family support compared to other issues. Workers were operating at or over capacity, leaving little time for outreach or preventative work with families and struggling to meet rising demand. Services were reliant on charitable trusts, fundraising and donations to bolster any public funding they had received.

There were few dedicated or specialist workers for families, with staff juggling family support responsibilities with other priorities, and much support provided entirely by sessional staff or volunteers.

A significant number of family support services relied wholly or heavily on volunteers to keep their service running. Volunteers included family members who had set up their own support due to the lack of funded services. While family members may be well placed to support others, they were generally not receiving the financial, practical or emotional support to do this safely or sustainably.

Options and choices for families varied significantly between areas, with some families having to travel beyond their own local authority area to access vital support. 29% of services supported families from another area. There were considerable gaps in family support, particularly for young people harmed by others’ substance use.

96% of services supported families who were affected by both alcohol and drugs (rather than exclusively one or the other). This was a positive finding in the light of so much current policy focus on drugs rather than alcohol. Also positively, most services offered a combination of one-to-one and group support; self-referral as well as professional referrals; and blended service delivery between virtual and in-person support.

The research found particular challenges in remote and rural areas, and a lack of out of hours or crisis support for families. There were often no clear or accessible referral pathways into family support from services such as GPs or hospitals, missing obvious opportunities to link families into help as soon as they reach out.

Family support services were passionate about supporting families, with staff speaking of how difficult it was to know they could not meet the level of need in their local communities.

Justina Murray, CEO of Scottish Families, said:

“It is deeply concerning to find that families affected by someone else’s alcohol or drug use continue to be forgotten, or treated as an afterthought. We know that families feel stigmatised and undeserving of support, yet vital support services are hard to find and are under-resourced. We constantly hear about the importance of early intervention and prevention, but the lack of visible and accessible family support means families are struggling to cope alone until they reach crisis point and need emergency help. This is causing enormous harm to families. It is promising to see additional resources going into services for children, young people and families through the Scottish Government’s National Drug Mission, however this is not permanent or guaranteed funding, and it is thinly spread compared to need. Now is the time for a significant step change in family support provision, so that all children, young people and adult family members harmed through alcohol and drugs can get the support they need, as soon as they need it and where they need it.”

Read the full report here.

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