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  • Lauri Beekmann

Early intervention makes a difference for children and parents in families with substance abuse

14.06.2023 - Specialized therapy, parental coaching, and social activities help children and parents from families struggling with alcohol and drug abuse. This is demonstrated by a comprehensive evaluation conducted by psychologist and PhD Helle Lindgaard among children and parents in the treatment offering of the Blue Cross, Children's Blue House (Barnets Blå Hus).

Fire (on the right) and his mother Myntte Shekinah have received help in the Children's Blue House, which is targeted at families with alcohol or drug problems close to life. Photo: Jens Peter Engedal.

Stomach aches, restlessness, insecurity, and bullying at school. Children from families struggling with alcohol and drug abuse are far more burdened than other children. In fact, two out of three are seriously distressed, and every fifth child is at a crucial risk of depression and stress overload.


This is shown in a new evaluation carried out by psychologist and PhD Helle Lindgaard among children and their parents in Blue Cross Denmark's treatment offering, the Children's Blue House, which offers specialized help to families with alcohol and drug issues.


The evaluation is based on comprehensive data from 413 children aged 3-15 years and their parents. They have all participated in a process at the Children's Blue House with targeted therapy, parental coaching, and social activities, which have had a positive effect.


The proportion of children who had pronounced psychosomatic symptoms such as headaches and stomach pains has been reduced four times after a course in the Children's Blue House. Before the program, two-thirds of the children experienced restlessness and physical unrest, while after the program, it has fallen to half of the children. The evaluation also shows that the risk of depression and stress overload is halved.


"It brings hope that by preventing and helping these families through early intervention, we can greatly promote both well-being and increase coping skills for children and parents living in families with alcohol and/or drug problems," says psychologist Helle Lindgaard.


She points out that treatment offerings like the Children's Blue House, where children and parents can come for free and anonymously in safe and homely conditions to get help, are crucial.


"The fact that we have places like the Children's Blue House, which are easily accessible, and where the families are received so warmly and openly means that we spot more children and families and can help them earlier. The families are generally difficult to detect because there is so much taboo and shame associated with their situation. It becomes easier because the houses are very family-like, and it does not require referral from the municipality or doctor to get help."


Fewer conflicts and more openness In 2022, 238 children underwent a treatment course in the Children's Blue House nationwide. The Children's Blue House offers services to children and families in Frederikshavn, Aalborg, Aars, Vejle, Svendborg, Slagelse and Rønne as well as a satellite department on Læsø.


One of these families is Myntte Shekinah and her 11-year-old son Fire. They started a course in the Children's Blue House in Slagelse in 2022 with therapy, parental coaching, and social activities as the focus, which has made a significant difference for both of them.


"I am happier and feel relieved every time I come to the Children's Blue House. I was really sad for a year, where I never thought I could be happy again. It makes a difference because they can do much more than just listen. It is liberating and nice to be able to talk to someone who does not pass it on. You can talk to children who have experienced the same thing, or with a therapist who is nice and understanding," Fire explains.


Both Fire and his mother are grateful that there was a place they could go to get the help they needed.


"We feel truly lucky. In the Children's Blue House, we have gained some tools to avoid conflicts and guidance on how to support my child as best as possible in this process. Fire has become incredibly good at expressing his feelings and setting boundaries," Myntte Shekinah shares.


Preventing future challenges According to the evaluation of the Children's Blue House, both the children and the parents greatly benefit from the treatment course. The children get help to tackle the challenges they face in everyday life, and they can mirror themselves in other children, just as their parents also benefit from meeting other families and taking home concrete tools.


"The parents experience that they have become better at setting boundaries in a good way. There has been less unrest, and conflicts occupy less space. It benefits the whole family, so it just shows how important it is to intervene as early as possible," says Elin Hansen, who is the professional manager in Blue Cross Denmark.


Previous studies have shown that children growing up in homes with alcohol problems and abuse themselves have an increased risk of developing an addiction and facing other challenges such as anxiety, depression, and eating disorders.


"We often talk about how good it is that he gets help now. If we just put a lid on it, then maybe as a 30-year-old and he himself has had children, and he can feel that there are some things that begin to bubble. And then it's not certain that you know what it is," Myntte Shekinah, who is glad that her son gets the help he needs, says.


According to new figures from the Health Authority, 109,000 children in Denmark are growing up in homes with alcohol problems.

 

Conclusions from the evaluation of the Children's Blue House:

CHILDREN'S SYMPTOMS OF STRESS ARE REDUCED

  • They share the difficulties, are met, and helped to bear the tough times, by therapists and volunteer adults, by other children/young people in the same situation, and by their parents

  • They gain knowledge about "the field". It becomes normalized, so the children do not feel wrong, outsiders, or inferior They meet communities with like-minded people, both children and adults

CHILDREN'S COPING STRATEGIES IMPROVE

  • They gain insight and strategies to solve the challenges that can be solved and to move away from what cannot be solved

  • They learn to set boundaries and say no; that they may and how to

  • They learn to ask for help; that they may, how and where to

PARENTS STAND STRONGER IN THEIR PARENTHOOD

  • They get help with their own challenges, so the surplus for the children increases They are met and respected in their challenges and their qualities, and they learn that they are valuable

  • They gain knowledge and tools to understand their situation in general and their children specifically

  • They learn problem- and life strategies

  • They learn to ask for help; that they may, how and where to

  • They learn to set boundaries and say no; that they may and how to

  • They get communities and networks with like-minded people, with security and normalization, so they do not feel so alone or wrong.

 

Read the entire evaluation of the Children's Blue House HERE

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