The Ferret’s From The Margins project works with citizen journalists who have lived experience of overlapping issues including homelessness, addiction and mental health. The series investigates the way these things can interact, making it very difficult to break out of a cycle of insecurity.
One of our citizen journalists, Michelle, has a special interest in family support and addiction, due to her own experiences.
We’re in East Dunbartonshire, about to speak to some teenagers about the impact of their parents’ addiction on their lives, and I’m nervous.
I’m a recovering alcoholic. It took me years to get into recovery. Meanwhile my kids weren’t listened to. So as part of the From the Margins project I’ve come to hear about what it’s like from their point of view.
We’re going to speak to four young women whose parents are in addiction and get support through Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs (SFAAD)’s Routes project.
It’s a support group for 12-26 year-olds to give them the help they need to cope with family members in addiction.
Even though it’s estimated there are at least 60,000 children affected by a parent’s drug use, and another 65,000 children whose parents use alcohol in a harmful way, it’s a pretty unique service.
It was funded by the Scottish Government’s Drug Death task force, and has been running for almost three years. The young people here get one-to-one support, group activities and trips, and they can talk openly with each other and be understood. The workers here show them a taste of life outside of addiction and all the chaos that they’ve been exposed to.
But it’s just one project. And it’s full, and has been unable to take new referrals for many months.
Justina Murray, the chief executive of Scottish Families, says there is a huge gap in support for young people such as those in this group. But the charity doesn’t have the resources to help more of the teens that want access to the service. She says that has to change, and is hoping that more groups like this can one rolled out across the county.
Because the impacts of addiction on young people and families are huge.
I don’t remember my kids being taken into care at the height of my addiction. But do remember waking up and finding out that they were not there. I remember the silence.
That was the worst sound you can ever hear in a family home, that’s always had kids and their pals running about it. For a couple of years I had to have TVs on in every room, noise everywhere. Just to fill that emptiness.
And the other side of that coin is that kids want to know if their mums and dads are alright, when they’re not in their care. Not being able to see each other is sometimes also part of the trauma. On my son’s 16 birthday I had to leave his present and balloon in the close [of the block of flats] because I wasn’t allowed to see him. There’s a lot of things that happen like that.
Now my kids are back in my care. But it’s still hard because they’ve been through a lot. Young people like them need to let people know what it’s like and to be provided with the right support.
When we meet them, we find these young people have no problem with telling us what they need. They aren’t using their own names but have chosen ones they want to use so they are Brenda and Natalia, aged 15, Billie is 16 and Maisie 18.
This meeting is not about asking them to retell traumatic stories – there’s enough of that goes on. So we selected words – like trust, love and family – and we asked them to tell us whatever they wanted in response.
Here’s what they said, in their own words.
Being let down
Billie, 16: “Your parents will make arrangements for your birthday, that they’re going to turn up in the morning, sober. And us being young, we do believe it. And it comes up, and they’re drunk. Like I remember one time, after I started living with my gran, I would sit at the window, and I would wait for my mum to come. And she would arrive, staggering.”
Maisie, 18: “It’s kind of like a punch in the face. You never lose that hope, though, that they’re just going to be okay when they turn up. Because you’re so young that you just think: “This is it, this’ll be the time, this’ll be the time.”
Billie: “Now I hate people telling me: “I promise I’ll do that”.
Brenda, 15: “Trust is a tricky word for me. To be honest I don’t trust anyone. If you want to trust someone, they need to be dependable, reliable and things like that but literally near enough no-one in my life is actually reliable. At home my mum is not very reliable. I am not in contact with my dad. So, I’ve kind of built up this wall.”
Natalia, 15: “I completely agree. Trust is a tricky one. But I would say I trust people too easily and I am being constantly let down because I am just waiting for someone that’s not going to let me down.
“Even with my dad. I haven’t seen him in a long time because he’s relapsed. But if I was to put too much pressure on him about contact, then sometimes he wouldn’t come, or he would be annoyed.”
“I don’t think he wanted me to trust him. If I do that means he’s got to say: “’I’m not going to let you down”. And he knows that’s not the case. As much as they [people in addiction] might not want to [let you down], they do.”
Maisie: “Because it’s so hard for people who have gone through trauma, people who have gone through addiction. They don’t know who they can trust.
“When you get that friend or that person in your life, you just don’t let them go, because you can’t. You can’t have someone else in your life leave you. Because you feel like you keep getting abandoned by people.”
Natalia: “My life used to be so bad. I didn’t want to be in the house. I didn’t want to see my dad. I would just leave because I hated my life. I thought about dying all the time.
“I got out of it. I am in a family now that loves me and cares about me. I feel so special and so loved. More than I have ever been loved in my life. You can feel it looking at them. You can feel it when they smile at you. You can just feel the love.”
Billie: “I didn’t love myself at all. Because I didn’t pay attention to myself or focus on myself at all. I was so focussed on fixing mum and dad to make that loveable family. I have experienced physical abuse at a young age, and all through that, I still could say that I still love my mum to this day.”
Brenda: “I want people to know that no matter your situation, you are loved by someone. You are worth it. You are everything you want to be. You can get out of that situation.
“If you don’t think anything will get better, or things will get worse, say to a teacher, a social worker, a member of the family that you trust, or a friends’ parent. The system, the social work system, the child protection hearings – they are so annoying and boring and you feel like you just want to fling a brick at your social worker but it does get better. We are proof of that.”
Natalia: “Sorry to all the social workers out there!”
Maisie: “The thing is, though, I think you’ll never lose your love for someone. Even if the situation gets really, really bad.”
Billie: “You become the parent, in addiction. You become the worrier. You become the [person thinking]: I’ve to look after my mum. What is my mum doing? Is my mum okay? Is my mum safe? Is my mum in the house, is she…dead?”
“But when I joined Scottish Families it started becoming, like my family. Like we all have each other. And if we want to say that my mum overdosed at the weekend, or my dad got put into rehab, we all kind of help each other. We all come together in a group. That’s what makes it so special. It felt so good that I could get my word across. And it was kind of like a relie. Someone’s actually hearing me.”
Maisie: “You know, if you can’t go home to your parent and say: “Oh I got this achievement in school,” and they don’t care about you because they’re on drugs and alcohol, you can go to [Scottish Families workers] and they’ll be like: “That’s fantastic, well done!” And they’re pure like hype you up like a parents to do. It’s like it becomes a bit like your safe family. Because maybe family at home isn’t safe, but Scottish Families is safe.”
Brenda: “I have always been quite shy. But recently I have been trying to push myself forward and speak out a lot more. My whole life I was the one that got told to ‘shut up.’ In my household, it was like land of the loyal. You weren’t allowed to speak about what happened.
“I am a victim of domestic violence and domestic abuse.
“For the longest time, I couldn’t say anything to anyone. Then, I moved into a Womens’ Aid last year with my mum and my little brother. That was the first time me or my mum spoke out about anything that happened. Since then, we’ve had our own house and I am now working on speaking out more and being heard.
“I want other people to know that if you have been a victim of domestic violence or anything like that then it’s like you don’t need to be labelled. You can do whatever you want to do. You don’t need to be someone that is afraid or someone that is looked down upon by other people. You can do anything.”
Billie: “Your life in the past doesn’t have to be your life in the future. Over time I realised that I can change my life and make my future the best future. Make it the life I’ve always wanted. I don’t care about money. I just care about me being able to support my family, and be the mum that I’ve always wanted.
“If I’m talking to my younger self, there would’ve been like no chance – I thought I was stuck in that bad life forever. But through time, and through me growing up – and I’m still growing up – I’m getting stronger.”
In response to calls for more family support the Scottish Government told The Ferret:
“Routes, delivered by SFAAD and partly funded by Scottish Government, gives fantastic support to young people and their families impacted by drug and alcohol use. Scottish Government recognises the importance of holistic support for children and families affected by drug use and this is a core part of our National Mission to save and improve lives.”
It said that it has invested £3.5m in the delivery of its Whole Family Support Framework, launched in December. And it is also investing £3m per year over five years in third sector and frontline projects. A spokesperson added: “In addition to this, we have convened an expert working group to further develop our support for young people.”
Watch our Disclosure documentary, From the Margins, on BBC One Scotland.
From the Margins is co-produced by citizen-journalists, supported by The Ferret to investigate the overlapping issues of homelessness, addiction and mental health and more.
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With thanks to Shelter Scotland’s Time for Change Glasgow team.
Photo Credit: Laura Kingwell