Moving Parents and Children Together Programme (M-PACT) is a whole family, structured support programme which aims to improve the well-being of children and families affected by substance misuse. M-PACT provides a safe space for children to talk about their parents’ or family member's addiction, delivering significant benefit even to families who are have multiple and complex needs.
Deryn grew up with an alcoholic father who was often physically and emotionally unavailable and tragically took his own life while she was still a teenager.
Several years later Deryn’s own husband, who she had known since she was 14, began to slide from recreational use of substances into active addiction, and as this progressed his co-occurring mental health issues also deteriorated. When things got out of control, he would leave the family home and go missing, often ending up in prison, where he began to spend more and more time. They had a daughter together, Jenny, who was beginning to experience a repeat of Deryn’s own difficult childhood. “Her father was out of her life more than he was in it,” Deryn tells us.
To begin with Deryn was able to hide her husband’s addiction from Jenny. “When he was in prison, I would say he was away at work. But after a while I just couldn’t hide it anymore. When she was 8 or 9, I had to sit her down and tell her why the police kept coming round looking for her dad.” Eventually Deryn started to take Jenny to visit her father in prison. “A lot of the time their only relationship was across a prison table.”
Her husband’s addiction took over Jenny’s life. “It consumed us. It affected my mental health which also influenced Jenny, without a doubt.
I’d tried to cover the cracks and pretend everything was ok and created an image of him for Jenny that wasn’t real. I reached a stage where I thought ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ I was lonely, isolated, cut off from my friends and family, and full of guilt and shame. I wouldn’t even want to go to the school gates. We’d both be embarrassed.”
In 2017, her husband had gone missing again and Deryn experienced her own breakdown. She contacted The Brink and asked if there was any help for the family of an addict, and they told her about their family group, which she attended.
“It completely changed my life. I realised I wasn’t alone. I had support. You feel as if you’re the only family that’s going through this and then you're sitting in a group with other wives and mothers that going through the same experience. I was able to speak honestly and felt connected again, I was a part of something.”
The Brink then invited both Deryn and Jenny, who was 10 at the time, to attend Action on Addiction’s M-PACT (Moving Parents and Children Together) course – “and that just changed both of our lives, it was so empowering for the two of us, that’s where we got most of our healing. I didn’t know what to say to Jenny without doing any more damage, they were able to talk to her in a way that I didn’t have the words for.”
Meeting other kids whose parents were addicted helped Jenny realise that she wasn't the only child, that she’s wasn't different. She became able to speak freely about it, to say that her dad was an addict. It really helped both of us to deal the pain that we had felt as a result of his addiction – before MPACT we took it personally, we’d think 'why are you doing this to us?' Then we learned and understood that it was not personal. He wasn’t deliberately trying to hurt us.
Before doing M-PACT we didn’t know about healthy boundaries or how to take care of ourselves. We learned that it was important to have boundaries in place and to put ourselves first, rather than the addict and their addiction. As a result, we took a step back and we didn’t see him for over 2 years. And during that time, we recovered. And because we changed, it somehow sparked a change in him. Before that, we were just going round in circles."
Of the profound change in Jenny, Deryn says “attending M-PACT gave Jenny a voice. She didn’t know how to communicate her feelings. She used to keep quiet and watch what was going on. During the course she started speaking up and saying what she wanted and how she felt. She decided herself she didn’t want to see her dad, and she stuck by her boundaries and protected her feelings, and she really grew emotionally and spiritually. It was just amazing to watch."
Deryn and Jenny have learned to look after themselves, and now understand that their happiness and recovery is not dependent on him.
“In the past, his addiction had consumed the whole family. It wasn’t just his disease; it was a family disease. I used to think ‘if only he wasn’t using drugs, we’d be happy.’ But we’ve learned that we’re separate. We stepped into our own recovery, and always must make sure our recovery comes first. We’ve found our happiness, our safe place. We’ve healed, which has brought about a healing in him as well.”
In November 2020, Jenny’s dad started his own journey of recovery – and Deryn practiced what she had learned by not feeling responsible for him.
“When you’re the partner of an addict you try to step and in cushion them and stop them from falling. I had to learn to step back and keep back. We’re taking very small steps, starting to reconnect and slowly be a family again, but he needs to concentrate on his own recovery. With good, healthy boundaries in place, Jenny recently made the choice to start seeing him again, on her terms."
Through The Brink and M-PACT Deryn has been able to start breaking the cycle that she and Jenny were in as a result of her own childhood: “I was aware that it was becoming normal to have an absent father, someone who was coming and going and not meeting her needs. Because I was accepting that, it had become our norm and I knew that Jenny was going to stay trapped in the cycle herself. I knew that it had to be changed and it could only be changed if we had help. Now Jenny can have knowledge, awareness, education, insights to break that cycle. And she knows that her dad loves her and that he’s trying to get better.”
“M-PACT has been a life-saver. In fact, it’s given us our lives back. We’re feeling connected to life, to other people, and to each other again. I can’t thank The Brink and M-PACT enough.
M-PACT is a whole family, multi-family, structured brief intervention. Its psychosocial, educational, and systematic approach aims to improve the well-being of children and families affected by parental substance misuse. The programme supports families to address areas such as communication and coping strategies as well as educating family members on what addiction is and the impact it has. A unique and innovative programme, which puts children at its heart.
Click here for more information on M-PACT