Time4Us, Barnet Young Carers And Siblings (BYCAS), the young carers’ service at Barnet Carers Centre
How is the initiative run?
The Time4Us project has one part-time Substance Misuse Officer (also known as ‘Time4Us Coordinator’) who currently supports 41 young people, with other staff from BYCAS providing some additional support.
Children who are affected by a parent’s substance misuse are generally referred to Time4Us by partner organisations, including Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, schools, the Youth Offending Team, social services and the Drug Action Team. Families can also refer themselves to the project.
When a young person is identified or referred to Time4Us, the Substance Misuse Officer conducts a home visit to meet the young person and the family. This is a vital part of the project as it helps to build up a relationship with the young person and their family. During the home visit, the substance misuse officer will discuss additional needs for the whole family and signpost to other services where appropriate.
Subsequently, the Substance Misuse Officer provides one-to-one support to those young people that want it. The frequency and location of these meetings vary; some young people will meet with the Substance Misuse Officer twice a week, others will meet once a fortnight. Meetings take place in the young people’s family homes, in schools, at Barnet Carers Centre or in coffee shops. The format of meetings varies depending on the needs of the individual. For some younger members the session may include arts and crafts, for others it may just be a chance for the young person to get things off their chest.
In addition to the one-to-ones, the Substance Misuse Officer sometimes acts as a mediator with schools or parents to help relieve some of the stresses affecting the young person.
Another main element of Time4Us is helping the young person to access all the other services offered at BYCAS, including counselling, tuition in English and maths, twice monthly youth clubs, monthly outings (for over-9s), skill sessions such as drug and alcohol education, relaxation sessions and activities including art and music (held in the BYCAS Lounge which has been sponsored by Capital FM). The Substance Misuse Officer will often ring Time4Us members to remind them of these events and opportunities.
Because children of drug and alcohol using parents are less likely to be involved in positive activities than other children, the Substance Misuse Officer particularly encourages Time4Us members to attend groups or activities provided by BYCAS or other organisations, in order to gain positive experiences and lasting memories. If the activity the young person is interested in has a cost attached to it, Time4Us can help make grant applications to cover the cost (e.g: through the Explore More! Fund for young carers).
Time4Us also provides support to parents, as this is an important way of improving the family life of the young person. The Substance Misuse Officer talks to parents about relevant issues involving housing, benefits or school, often signposting to other services but also providing supporting letters or accompanying parents to appointments. The Substance Misuse Officer may also encourage parents to attend drug or alcohol groups.
BYCAS has produced promotional literature for the Time4Us project which is available in schools, libraries, youth centres and health centres. The Substance Misuse Officer has also delivered presentations in school assemblies to raise awareness of young carers and young people living with a family member who misuses drugs or alcohol.
What methods have been particularly effective?
Rather than present the service to families as a drug and alcohol support service, Time4Us promotes its positive activities in order to encourage engagement. They also highlight that BYCAS is a voluntary organisation and a positive service, as this often reassures families who are sceptical about statutory services. Time4Us also encourages referring agencies to promote the positive activities aspect of the service to families.
When setting up Time4Us, BYCAS ensured that the name of the project did not refer to substance misuse, and the Substance Misuse Officer has an alternative job title – ‘Time4Us Coordinator’ – which is used with young people attending the project, while the title of ‘Substance Misuse Officer’ is used with partners to aid understanding of the role.
One-to-one sessions and home visits have been very effective in helping to build up a relationship with the young person and their family. The home visits also provide an opportunity to discuss additional needs for the whole family and signpost to other services where appropriate.
When delivering educational sessions on first aid or drug awareness, it has been useful to build these into other activities as this has been more successful than running them as standalone sessions. Young people are more likely to engage if activities provide a fun distraction rather than a link to their everyday lives. But by building a small amount of educational sessions into other activities, it is possible to provide important information without young people becoming disengaged.
Have there been any challenges along the way?
Building up referrals from other services is an ongoing challenge. Initially it was assumed that a high number of referrals would come through the Drug and Alcohol Team but in reality these referrals were lower than expected. BYCAS has therefore promoted Time4Us through presentations to a range of other partner services, and promotional material has been provided at key places families may visit. The project also encourages staff at services who work with adults misusing drugs or alcohol to add standard questions to their assessment process to identify whether there is a child in the family and whether their substance misuse may have an effect on them. Time4Us is continually working to further develop links with other services, and the project now receives referrals from a range of services, with the percentage of referrals received from the Drug and Alcohol Team on the increase.
Another challenge has been engaging families and demonstrating the positive effect such a service can have on the family. Barriers include the parent admitting they have a problem and that it has an effect on their child. It has been very important to promote the project as a voluntary run service. Conducting home visits has also been key to helping reduce these barriers.
The one-to-one sessions have proved successful for most young people registered with Time4Us, but some individuals require more support and counselling. Time4Us has therefore used some funding to cover additional counselling when necessary. Counselling sessions take place at the carers’ centre or BYCAS youth clubs to ensure that the young person is more comfortable with the surroundings.
What hints and tips might help me get started?
Providing an effective support service for young people affected by a parent’s drug or alcohol misuse will involve working with a range of different organisations (such as adult drug and alcohol teams and GPs). This requires patience and will involve awareness raising and promotion of the service. It may take time for referrals to come through, but continuing to promote your service and build relationships over the phone, in person or through presentations will increase awareness and lead to referrals over time.
Working with partners to build up a simple referral pathway reduces the burden on referring organisations. Providing regular feedback to partners on how the young person is doing is also important. It shows how the service is making a difference to the young person's life and encourages partners to make future referrals.
It is important that where a young person affected by substance misuse is identified, the family circumstances are considered. It is important to know if the person misusing substances has professional help and if not to make a referral and be in regular contact where necessary. Remember that behavioural problems with the young person often correlate to a family member’s relapse.
When working with young people affected by substance misuse, don’t forget that they often take on adult roles and appreciate being spoken to with care and consideration. On the flipside, one-to-one emotional and practical support should be teamed up with fun and engaging experiences which will form positive memories during what may be chaotic and unpredictable home lives.
Are there any useful documents that could assist me?
Read reports on substance misuse and its effect on families and children:
Where can I get further information?
Barnet Carers Centre
3rd Floor, Global House
303 Ballards Lane
Phone: 020 8343 9698
When was this information collected?
November 2011 (updated June 2012)