Setting up a family support group

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Setting up a family support group Introduction GETTING STARTED 1 Working out what s needed Questions to be asked and answered Setting the aims
Setting up a family support group Introduction GETTING STARTED 1 Working out what s needed Questions to be asked and answered Setting the aims and objectives PLANNING THE DETAILS 4 What sort of group? Who is the group for? Being inclusive How often should a group meet? For how long should a group meet? PRACTICALITIES AND GROUNDWORK 9 Publicity Fundraising Working with professionals The venue Setting a group agreement Monitoring and evaluation RUNNING THE GROUP 15 Facilitating skills Supervision Welcoming new members Structuring the meeting Guest speakers and group activities When things go wrong Challenge and support The stages a group goes through Tips for group leaders or facilitators What Adfam can do for you Published by Adfam Telephone th Edition Adfam 2009 Introduction 7 NOTE Whenever the term family has been used, this includes partners, friends and anyone else involved with, or affected by, someone else s use of alcohol or drugs Adfam is the national umbrella organisation for families affected by someone else s drug or alcohol use, and the leading national charity working with and for these families and the services which support them. We provide information, training and frontline services in prisons; our work also concentrates on piloting and disseminating good practice, representing the views of families to opinion formers and influencing national policy. This is the fourth edition of this guide, which explores the issues involved in setting up and running a support/self-help group for families affected by someone else s drug or alcohol use. It is designed as a reference resource containing guidelines and ideas, and enables people to be aware of the issues to be addressed when setting up or running a support group for families affected by drug and alcohol use in the family. Requests for help in this area of our work come from a wide variety of people: parents, partners and grandparents experiencing drug or alcohol problems, drug/alcohol agency staff, faith groups, social workers, GPs, local community groups, and many more. This guide has been written with all of these audiences in mind. SETTING UP A FAMILY SUPPORT GROUP 1 1 Working out what s needed 7 GETTING STARTED It s important to be clear at all stages what you re planning to do, or else you ll get lost and set yourself back. Your proposals and ideas should be grounded in a proper assessment of needs in your local area. Are you sure it is a group that is needed? The first stage in setting up a successful group is making sure that it s a group that s needed. Thorough research into the demand for a group in your area is vital. Going through the process of checking this out will also give you information about what sort of group is most suitable and how best to go about setting it up. Working out what s needed If you are reading this, presumably you are aware of families affected by someone else s drug or alcohol use in your local area - you might even be a family member yourself. How can you help these families? What do they need? What should you be doing? In order to offer relevant support and do anything that is really effective, it is important to ask the people experiencing the problems a series of questions, organised in a structured way. The following process gives a simple, logical structure that will lead you through from your awareness of the problems to an idea of a relevant and effective way of meeting the needs of the families. It will help you to work out your aims and objectives for the work you want to do, which is a crucial stage in setting up anything new. It is vital to become clear about those aims so that you can check out whether they will really address the problems. Also, a group of people who do not declare their individual aims cannot reach a satisfactory joint aim, and this might cause conflict as the group develops. Note: In Adfam s experience, some support groups can feel they are just as isolated as families themselves and struggle to become well known. Before you go ahead with setting up a new group, check that this service isn t already offered by someone else; if it is, consider working alongside them. See Adfam s website for details of services in different areas of the country and even if there isn t a service in your own town, you might be able to find an organisation in your county who could have some useful tips. 2 SETTING UP A FAMILY SUPPORT GROUP Questions to be asked and answered 2 What is actually happening to people that makes you think they need some sort of support? Be specific about what you are seeing and what you are hearing about, for example, you know several family members who have been unable to find any support or information to help them. What problems are being experienced in those situations? What effects are the situations having on people? What difficulties are they causing? Try contacting a range of audiences to answer your questions. Can you organise a survey to be carried out in the area, or arrange for a questionnaire through, for example, school PTAs (Parent-Teacher Associations) or the local community centre? Talk to other agencies, including the local drug and alcohol treatment agencies and local GPs what are they hearing and seeing, and what problems are being brought to them? Do the specialist treatment agencies recognise a need for support for families? Find out if there are services in your area for families with different problems, such as generic carers services. Do they perceive a need for a service for families with drug or alcohol problems? Find out what kind of support families need, for example a helpline, a self-help group, information or something else. Prioritising needs It could be that your needs assessment throws up ideas which are too ambitious or just not feasible at the current time. You will need to prioritise and decide how best to meet the majority of those needs. Note: This guide assumes you decide to set up a support group so families can meet each other, share experiences and provide mutual support. For information on other types of support such as oneto-one counselling, respite breaks, helplines and outreach services, please see Adfam s guide We Count Too. SETTING UP A FAMILY SUPPORT GROUP 3 3 Setting the aims and objectives Overall aim This is what you see as necessary to be provided overall, in response to local needs. For example: To provide confidential support for family members who are concerned about someone else s actual or possible drug or alcohol use, so that they can deal with the situation confidently and constructively in their family life. Objectives These are the things you will need to provide or do in order to achieve the overall aim. They are ways of addressing the needs of families, and could include: To provide clear information on drugs and alcohol, their effects and the risks involved in using them To provide information on drug and alcohol treatment To provide a situation where family members can talk in confidence about their fears and problems To provide mutual support and self-help To befriend, and to reduce isolation and stigma To develop an individual s confidence in dealing with the situation in their relationships with their family member To provide ways of enabling family members to reflect on and develop their family relationships so that they are in a better position to cope in a crisis. Summary points 1 Work out the problems in your area 2 Work out what needs are underlying the problems 3 Set your overall aims and objectives 4 Prioritise your needs Once you ve set out your aims and objectives, you can start the next stage: planning the details 7 4 SETTING UP A FAMILY SUPPORT GROUP What sort of group? 4 There are two main types of group: self-help group led by members of the group themselves support group led by a facilitator who is not a member of the group Note: These definitions of self-help group and support group are for the purposes of this guide only. Each type of group has its own advantages and disadvantages, but some are common to both. If you have worked out the needs, aims and objectives of the group, then you should have a good idea of the sort of group to set up. Self-help group The term self-help group is used here to indicate a group that is led by members of the group themselves. A self-help group is normally made up of people who share a similar problem in this case we re talking about drug-related family problems The other factor specific to a self-help group is that members are taking a particular initiative in forming or joining the group to help themselves, and to do so by sharing their experiences and the responsibility for running the support group with peers Members join to get their own needs met, but the very life generated within and by the group means that members inevitably give to, and receive from, each other. Advantages of a self-help group It can be empowering to be part of a group that depends on peer cooperation, rather than any institutions or professionals Because they are involved in running it, people develop their skills and abilities often developing skills they were unaware of Some people are very nervous of institutions or professionals, so selfhelp groups provide an invaluable alternative. Disadvantages of a self-help group It can heighten anxiety to hear of drug problems that are worse than those in one s own family, particularly when members are at different stages in experiencing the problem Some self-help groups can lack structure if too much time is spent sharing negative experiences, the group members can become even more anxious or depressed than they were originally. SETTING UP A FAMILY SUPPORT GROUP 5 Planning the details Support (or facilitator-led) groups The term support group is used here to indicate a group that is led by a facilitator as opposed to a self-help group. The term facilitator is used to describe someone who undertakes the role of thinking about the needs and development of the group, is not a member of the group, provides the structure for the group s meetings and terms of existence, and leads group meetings. Depending on the specific make-up and nature of the group, and the contract with the group, the facilitator will involve members in determining activities and structure to a greater or lesser degree. As with a self-help group, a support group will be made up of people with a common, personal problem which, in this case, is a family drugs problem. A major factor in this type of group is that the facilitator is playing a role that sets them, in some sense, apart from the group. This allows a more consistently detached leadership than the shared, roving leadership of a self-help group. The facilitator can be someone working either on a voluntary or paid basis. They may have experienced the particular problem and have facilitating skills, or they may not have personal experience but have facilitating skills that can enable the group to do the work necessary for their development and mutual support. Whether a facilitator has personal experience of a drug problem in their family or not, both positions bring their own range of advantages and disadvantages and are probably of equal value to a group. Local organisations, the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (, the UK Council for Psychotherapy ( and the Counselling Directory ( will all have useful information on qualified counsellors who may be able to help. Note The facilitator should not currently be undergoing the type of difficulties that have brought the group together for support. Most of us find it too difficult to remain detached in a supporting situation if we are experiencing difficulties and distress similar to those in the group. 6 SETTING UP A FAMILY SUPPORT GROUP Planning the details Advantages of a facilitator-led group The facilitator can maintain a more detached position, enabling the group to work in a positive, constructive way that keeps things moving forward The facilitator can help the group to keep the balance between sharing difficulties and dwelling too much on them. Too much emphasis on negative experience can create a downward spiral or a sense of hopelessness because things are awful for everyone Some people prefer such a structure with a designated and flexible leader It can leave the group free from organisational and administrative concerns. They can then deal with their own personal material with a high level of concentration Good facilitators can enable individuals to discover their personal strengths, recognise their own needs and enable them to work out how to meet them The mood and the levels of motivation within a self-help group can fluctuate considerably, depending on many factors. This can affect the size of the group negatively, with the result that the fall in numbers renders the group unviable. This means in effect that the life expectancy of a group is determined by the mood and motivation swings of the group itself. A designated leader/facilitator provides a positive focus and a source of motivation that can act as a stabiliser when these fluctuations occur, thus affecting the group s life expectancy in a positive way. Disadvantages of a facilitator-led group Poor facilitators can de-skill and disempower both individuals and a group Using a facilitator from outside the group may arouse anxieties around confidentiality Not getting off on the right foot with a facilitator can be a big setback and put people off returning. SETTING UP A FAMILY SUPPORT GROUP 7 Planning the details Advantages common to both types of group Reassurance can be gained by: Hearing that other people are experiencing similar problems Realising that you re not alone Recognising that your family is not odd or abnormal Realising that you re not a failure. Friendship can be developed: With people who are accepting of you whilst knowing about the problems you are facing At a deeper level because of the depth of trust and sharing within the group. Positive action: Joining a group requires conscious effort and commitment which can generate a new sense of motivation, hope and a sense of power to deal with the situation Being part of a group requires commitment to the other members which can help diminish the sense of isolation. Disadvantages common to both types of group Members may be at different stages of experiencing the problem, so it can be difficult to meet everyone s needs Some people find group situations very threatening When experiencing shock or severe distress, individuals may be unable to contribute to the supportive aspect of the group, being in need of more focused attention for themselves The loss of anonymity may feel too daunting The support that families require fluctuates depending on the circumstances of the drug misuse. This affects attendance at group meetings, causing fluctuations in membership and the need for continuous recruitment. 8 SETTING UP A FAMILY SUPPORT GROUP Who is the group for? 5 If you ve worked initially on your aims and objectives, the answer to this should be fairly clear. Answer the following questions to help you determine your target audience. If the group is publicised as being for families and friends of people with a drug or alcohol problem: What do you mean by the term family? Does the term include grandparents, aunts and uncles? Will you include step-parents, single parents and partners in same sex relationships? Will you focus on adults? Will you cater for the needs of children? Who are friends? Will you include boyfriends and girlfriends? What do you mean by drugs and drug users? What do you mean by alcohol use/misuse? Will you take in HIV/AIDS and blood-borne virus issues? How will you ensure you are inclusive, for example, do not exclude people from different cultures/ethnicities? How can you be generous in catering for people needing support without losing all sense of direction and purpose? Working out your answers to the above questions early on is a very important part of setting up the group. As the group develops and you become clearer about the needs of people in the area, the group itself can review its membership and its role and make any necessary decisions in light of new information and awareness. It is natural for a group s members to change to meet new needs of the area. This indicates evolution and is healthy, but making clear who the group is for, and why, as part of your aims and objectives, is important. SETTING UP A FAMILY SUPPORT GROUP 9 Planning the details CASE STUDY SPODA, Chesterfield We were all carers and knew the service we needed Dot Inger, SPODA Project Coordinator SPODA has now been running for over a decade and was set up by the mother of a drug user. Starting out as a simple self-help group, SPODA now delivers free support, a helpline, educational sessions, specialist help for bereaved families, a grandparent/kin carer key worker, alternative therapies and respite. SPODA was named East Midlands Drug Team of the Year by the Home Office in gfunding SPODA s increasing recognition led to it being approached by the local DAAT with an interest in commissioning the service. The SPODA team had to produce a detailed business plan for the funding to go ahead. SPODA worked with partner agencies from the outset and received further funding from district councils, the local authority (through the Carers Grant) and Local Area Agreements. 8Publicity The first posters were simple and put up locally. People were asked to call a dedicated number for further information, and at first no information on venues was given as this could put people off. Dot Inger, Project Coordinator and a trustee of Adfam, says that there were few real difficulties in setting up the group: We were all carers and knew the service we needed. 10 SETTING UP A FAMILY SUPPORT GROUP Being inclusive 6 Adfam s Including Diverse Families project is a specially funded programme exploring diversity in drug and alcohol family support services. The work focused on identifying the needs of diverse communities and finding ways to better respond to these particular needs and remove barriers preventing some communities from accessing support. Based on the findings from this, it is useful to remember a number of points to ensure that your group has widespread appeal, is inclusive and reflects your local community. Men Services and support groups are usually run and attended by women, and men often feel less encouraged to seek and access support. Approaches to counter this include: Providing expert speakers to come and talk to the group this takes the emphasis off the tea and sympathy image and makes meetings seem less intimate and more informative Providing occasional knowledge-based training or workshops this approach focuses on a learning outcome and moves away from talking about people s experiences, emotions and feelings Developing IT services like websites and communication systems this means that the first contact doesn t have to be made face-to-face and people can be eased in and better welcomed to meetings Attention to atmosphere and feel. Try to make the physical environment comfortable by displaying positive images of men, for example in fatherly roles Make sure that if you have literature it has male-inclusive language and illustrations Advertise your group widely to include men s magazines or places often frequented by men If demand is high enough, make allowances for men-only sessions where they can express anxieties particularly related to their role in the family and also perhaps recruit a male worker/volunteer to facilitate the group Make sure you address and respond to key issues for men Be prepared to operate the group out of working hours and at weekends. Grandparents The existence of grandparent carers people caring full time for their grandchildren due to parental
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