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Addiction treatment must recognise the importance of family

Addiction treatment must recognise the importance of family to improve outcomes for vulnerable children

Dapaanz media release – embargoed until 5pm 3 September 2015

Treating those suffering from addiction as members of families and communities, rather than as individuals in isolation, is needed if we are to reduce the harms from addiction suffered by many children in New Zealand, the Cutting Edge addiction conference was told today in Nelson.

Keynote speaker Dr Stefan Gruenert, Chief Executive of Odyssey House in Victoria, Australia, said addiction treatment workers are typically both trained and funded to work with a person as if they were the only ones needing help because of their addiction. This can have considerable impacts on the support they receive in their parenting roles, and the wellbeing of their children.

“Evidence suggests that for every one person suffering from addiction, there will also be ten or more others affected. We forget that family members are often sick with worry, and may experience anxiety and other mental health issues, not to mention financial pressures.

“Including families as part of treatment has many benefits. If often helps an individual understand the impact of his or her behaviour, and can motivate them to address their problems. It can provide desperately needed support to family members who are often at a loss as to how to deal with the strains they are facing themselves. It gets better results because healthy relationships are the key to recovery, and it can help identify children who might be most at risk of further harm.”

Dr Gruenert said it would be very difficult to find anyone, either at a policy or at a treatment level, who would disagree with this.

“Cost benefit analyses have been done and the research is clear that family-based interventions significantly contribute to long-term treatment success and save money by intervening early with children and other family members.

“The problem is that before we can achieve this we need to change our whole approach. Family inclusive practice (FIP) needs to become part of training so clinicians feel confident in dealing with families. Governments need to be a lot more flexible in terms of funding so clinicians do not feel pressured to neglect families needing help because budgets can’t stretch to include them.

“It’s a shame these disincentives are so entrenched because it’s usually the children who suffer most at the end.”

He said there have been areas of great progress in Australia, with good results.

“We’ve had some real champions here talking about the benefits of FIP and sharing their own stories and that’s led to some active change. In terms of government, portfolios around drug addiction, mental health and child protection have been aligned under one Minister in some States, which has helped drive more integrated policy.

“As an Australian looking at New Zealand I have always felt Māori and Pasifika cultures have been much better incorporated into the mainstream. Māori and Pasifika cultures have such a strong focus on whānau and community, so I expected that family-inclusive, community focused and culturally sensitive services would be the norm here.”

Sue Paton, Executive Director of dapaanz (the New Zealand’s Addiction Practitioners' Association), said family inclusive services fit perfectly with New Zealand Government initiatives – such as the Vulnerable Children’s Action Plan – to improve outcomes for children facing adversity in their families. It was also relevant to concerns raised recently by the Children’s Commissioner about care of children in CYF protection.

“Our addiction workforce is highly committed to achieving excellent outcomes for its clients and client outcomes are strongly linked to improved family functioning. When children are deprived and suffering, parental/caregiver addiction is as likely to be among the mix of problem causes, as are violence, poverty or family dysfunction, and that is something we need to recognise.

Dapaanz is pleased to be hosting an event that provides Government and the addiction sector with insights, inspiration and practical support pathways to better meet the needs of families and improve outcomes for children.”

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