How children overcome parental addictions

Emily Rogers
Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Project improves the welfare of eight- to 17-year-olds and their families affected by parental substance misuse.




An average cost of £802 per family. Funding sources include the Amy Winehouse Foundation, Freemasons' Grand Charity and licence fees


In March 2006, the charity Action on Addiction joined forces with Wiltshire County Council to pilot a new approach to working with families affected by parental substance misuse. M-PACT (Moving Parents and Children Together) went on to be licensed for delivery in other areas and by December 2015, 494 families across the UK had participated in 101 programmes.


Referrals come from professionals including social workers, GPs, school staff, drug and alcohol workers, or families themselves. The children may be on child protection or child in need plans.

Project workers make contact with families to assess needs. If appropriate, they are invited to attend eight weekly sessions, involving between four and eight families. The programme features a mix of separate group work with children and adults, work with family units and group work where everyone comes together.

Participants are helped to make sense of addiction and explore their experiences through discussion, art, role play and games. Sessions cover topics including communication "one of the first things to break down in addicts' families", according to Matt Serlin who co-ordinates the programme in Wiltshire. "Children often feel the addiction is their fault," he adds. "One of our messages is they didn't cause it and can't cure it, but they can take care of themselves. That can be a massive relief."

The sessions are followed by a family review meeting to discuss further support, such as parenting classes or young carers' groups. Participants share progress at a reunion 12 weeks later.


An evaluation was completed in December 2015 by independent research consultant Lorna Templeton, looking at M-PACT programmes in 24 locations across the UK. These included programmes delivered directly by Action on Addiction in Wiltshire and schemes run by practitioners trained to deliver the scheme under licence.

Based on data from 237 families, the evaluation showed improvements in measures such as SCORE-15, which assesses "family functioning".

Average Coping Efficacy Scale scores improved from 22.92 for 253 children at session one to 24.17 for 153 children at the reunion, and for substance-using and non-using adults' from 22.31 to 24.22 and 21.97 to 24.42 respectively.

More than 80 per cent of both children and adults reported M-PACT had "definitely" or "maybe" facilitated change. Project workers identified 27 children removed from child protection plans after taking part in the project.

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