Taking a footstep towards better mental health for addict’s families in St. Helens

Alcohol and drug addiction can have a devastating impact, from severe health implications to financial problems, but the focus is rarely placed on the enormous weight resting on the shoulders of addicts’ families.

Working hard today to change that is Footsteps 2000, a charity in St Helens founded 20 years ago by people who’ve experienced life with substance abusers themselves.

They help family members of all ages, starting from four years old right through to grandparents, by providing emotional and practical support via counselling, group support sessions, home visits and more.

With the nearest similar service being over 100 miles away in Nottingham, Service Manager Stacey Goulding believes the community would struggle without them: “Over the last year we have supported over 800 people, and in some cases we have supported the substance user as well with recovery.

“I feel without our service there just wouldn’t be anything there. It’s a very unique service in a way and we’re very lucky to have it.”

One client in her early thirties, Catherine*, came to Footsteps last year as she had become emotionally fragile after a chaotic upbringing being put into care at six years old due to her parent’s alcohol and drug abuse.

Through weekly counselling sessions she was able to understand her feelings of anger, isolation, hate and love for her parents, and worthlessness.

By confronting the issue she has now been able to cut herself free from the past, and is using her newfound confidence to improve her life in other ways, such as volunteering at a local animal shelter weekly.

Stacey added: “The difference we see in people is confidence and resilience. What we try and aim for is if parents are abusing substances we’re not able to change that, but what we can do is try and build resilience in that person to be able to deal with it better.

“If any changes are going to happen in that person’s life, whether it’s them being involved with social services or being moved into foster care, although it will be an emotional roller-coaster for them, being able to provide that resilience will help them to cope with that change.”

Much of the care that Footsteps provide has been made possible thanks to support given by our Coalfields Community Investment Programme.

Back in 2018, they were granted £9735 to employ qualified counsellors for 9 hours per week over a year to replicate a counselling project in St. Helens and the six wards of Warrington that had shut down.

Footsteps are also a member of our Practical Support service and on top of free face-to-face visits and consultation from our Development Manager Stephen Abson, have also used the Grantfinder software we provide to access other funding awards.

Stacey said: “When I met Steve it was just nice to be able to talk and have those conversations in a way that was friendly, not just strictly professional. It feels like more of a family unit, rather than a professional unit.

“You usually get funding and its report after report and that’s just it really, you get your funding and it’s a high and buy. Coalfields are always there and try to help you in any way they can.”

Our support for Footsteps did not just end there; they have just been awarded a further grant of £10,000 from our April 2020 committee.

The money awarded was originally intended to be used in three different ways; one hour one-to-one support sessions on supporting loved ones dealing with substance abuse, employability skills sessions, and counselling.

The the charity is now reconsidering what’s best for the St Helen’s community in light of the COVID-19 pandemic: “I feel that the counselling side of it is something that is not only going to be needed now, during the Covid process, but also after.

“Once we are back to some kind of normality there is going to be an influx of referrals from those that thought they were okay because they are in lockdown and suddenly have to go back into reality, into the rush of life again.”

Footsteps have already made good strides to adapt their services to adhere to social distancing measures, including setting up daily WhatsApp diaries for people to track their progress, online art projects with a different theme each week, and counselling sessions over Zoom.

The charity also noticed a spike in the number of substance users struggling in lockdown within the families they treat, and have seen a drop in substance use after offering them their counselling services.

More information about Footsteps 2000 and the services they offer can be found over on their website.

*Name changed in order to preserve anonymity

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