By Graham Beech, Chief Executive of Action on Addiction

Amid all the talk of Boris and Brexit in Birmingham, and while the Prime Minister was rehearsing her entrance to the ‘Dancing Queen’ speech, a small group of experts was assembling for our roundtable event at the Conservative Party Conference to explore both the effect of addiction on family resilience and the effect of family resilience on addiction.


Given the emotional, behavioural and practical impact of addiction, even the most resilient of families can be deeply affected by it no matter how great their ability to pull together through even the darkest of times. Speaking at our event, Anne Longfield, The Children’s Commissioner for England, alerted us to the scale of the problem: according to work carried out with the Institute for Fiscal Studies, around 1.5 million children living in families with very high needs such as severe mental health problems, domestic abuse and addiction are not getting the help they need. This is yet another reminder of the critical need to halt the decline in preventive approaches and to invest in programmes that can build resilience within families.


The paucity of research on how to build resilience in family units affected by addiction is lamentable. Against this background, an independent evaluation of our Moving Parents and Children Together (M-PACT) programme shows that it can augment some of the protective factors that are believed to build resilience. These protective factors include confidence, cohesion, communication, self-esteem and the ability to tackle problems in a positive way and access support. Most of the quantitative changes that participants experienced are statistically significant, indicating that they were unlikely to have occurred by chance and are most likely to derive from participation in the M-PACT programme. The quantitative findings are also reinforced by qualitative evaluations, with participants reporting that global family functioning had improved over time as a result of participation in the programme.


In our agenda paper ‘Building Resilience in Families Affected by Addiction’, which highlights the independent evaluation’s positive findings in relation to M-PACT, we invite policy professionals and practitioners to join us in the development of a distinctive preventive policy approach predicated on building family resilience. We are particularly interested – from an addictions-specific perspective – in developing and promoting evidence-based approaches: that uncover or unlock aspects of resilience within families which exist but are hidden; that help families cope with problems associated with addiction; and that help families adapt to the presence of a loved one who is in the early stages of recovery.


Looking further afield – and as the experts who contributed to our roundtable event would attest – preventive policies which seek to strengthen resilience are as relevant to families affected by other mental health issues, domestic abuse and homelessness as to those affected by addiction. For this reason, we are calling on politicians and policy makers to be proactive in enabling promising family-focused interventions like M-PACT to grow and their outcomes to be evaluated. The benefits of this approach are summed up by one of the family members we worked with: “Where everything felt so dim and dire, [M-PACT] brought us together and allowed us to speak more freely than we had done in all the years we’ve been together.”


Read our agenda paper here.