A pilot project supporting young people affected by alcohol and drugs
‘Can I come to Routes forever?’ Routes attendee
Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs (SFAD) is a national charity supporting anyone who is living with the consequences of someone else’s alcohol and drug use. They recognised that there was a gap in support offered to young people aged 12 – 25 affected by these issues, which led to the setting up of Routes – launched in April 2019 as a ‘pilot project’ in the East and West Dunbartonshire areas.
A new service designed by young people themselves
As SFAD had not worked with this age group before, underpinning the project has been the importance of it being co-produced by the young people themselves – from coming up with the name and logo (determined their roots wouldn’t define the route they took in life) to deciding on activities and what support worked best for them.
Placing the young people at the centre was also vital in establishing and maintaining their trust. A huge hurdle in reaching these young people is that it’s often rare that they make themselves vulnerable to others, having been let down so often.
“When we meet a young person for the first time, we tell them that they have a say in how the project is run and you can see them thinking ‘yeah, right,’ but then when we carry through with those promises, that’s when it really sinks in…they matter.” – Routes project worker
An initial meeting with the group established that first and foremost it was about having fun, being able to escape problems at home and meeting people who were sharing similar experiences, but less about having to sit around a table to share their experiences. What emerged was often, when doing an activity or eating together in the group, they would naturally talk openly about their feelings or their home life.
Socialising and support
“The group is the only support I have ever had in my life to deal with mum. Not only do I get support from the workers, I have made lifelong friends with the other young people. We are more like family than friends. We have a different bond than what you have with your friends”- Routes attendee
Despite working between East and West Dunbartonshire, two very different local authorities in terms of deprivation, numbers of young people from each area were evenly matched and common issues of isolation, emotional neglect, stress and stigma helped forge connections.
Support was given by:
- Regular evening meet ups – from first aid courses to discussions on sexual health, important topics to the lives of the young people were discussed, alongside lots of fun.
- Smaller groups for activities and visits – including to workplace settings.
- 1-1 support, the opportunity to talk to somebody who they can trust.
- Food was also a central factor to the groups – as food poverty is a significant issue for families – cooking classes being a favourite activity, where they can take their creations home to siblings and parents to share.
The project saw common obstacles in the young people around low self-esteem, low future expectations and feelings of being stuck with a reputation they were powerless to change. However, meeting in the group they finally had an opportunity to escape from the role they’ve been given, being able to show a vulnerable side and not worry that anyone would be shocked or judge them or their family. Introductions to inspiring settings and role models have also helped the young people start to shape aspirations for themselves.
One boy was referred to Routes by his social worker. Brought up in a home where both parents used drugs, he witnessed a lot of domestic violence and had been taught to be very suspicious of professionals. He was approaching 15 and had been in school less than 20 days in the previous 18 months. As his social worker was hitting a brick wall, he agreed to attend but immediately doubted the motives of the Routes worker’s kindness. He was reluctant to regularly attend, however, the project workers persevered and he slowly started turning up, particularly if food was involved! Trust was gradually built up and he is now fully engaged with the project, attending every group including the Fire Service Mentoring Programme.
A 14 year old Routes girl commented that she was fascinated by prisons and would love to be a prison officer one day. Routes arranged a visit to Low Moss Prison where they talked to prison officers and a prisoner. When they left, the girl was quite emotional explaining, “I have butterflies. That is definitely what I’m going to be. I’m going to stop getting into trouble with the police and really try at school. When can we go back? I loved it.”
Learning for future projects
A brand new project, it was anticipated that demand for the service would be high, but they were overwhelmed by the need – exceeding the caseload for 1-1 support within 9 months of launching. SFAD and the project’s leaders have put this success down to the fact that they had the luxury of time to build trusting relationships. The 1-1 support was crucial in being able to navigate the at-times chaotic lives of these young people, being able to offer safe spaces to open up about their struggles. Keeping the groups small meant that connections were stronger as well as helping individuals feel secure and more valued.
“There are so many factors which make it appealing to these young people, some of whom, have faced unimaginable trauma in their short lives; the small group sizes, the co-development, the knowledge that everyone has experienced something similar and, probably most importantly, the opportunity to have fun with friends.” – Routes worker, reflecting on first year
Corra has invested in this project as part of our Partnership Drugs Initiative, with additional funding from the Volant Trust, Scottish Government’s National Development Project Fund, the Maple Trust and a contribution from East and West Dunbartonshire Alcohol and Drugs Partnerships.