How to help parents with addiction keep custody of their children?

How can we help parents with addiction to keep custody of their children?

About 30-40% of children from alcoholic families are temporarily placed in protective child custody.. Is it possible to prevent this and is medical treatment always required?


In Novosibirsk, the Timchenko Foundation, in partnership with the charity Sunny City, held a masterclass on the topic of Working with Parents with Addictions, as part of their workshop, The Practices of Temporary Protective Custody for Children: Approaches, Difficulties and Opportunities

Experts from the charitable foundation Constanta note that people are led to abuse alcohol for a variety of reasons. This is not always addiction and constant binges, but sometimes it is the symptoms of PTSD unveiling themselves.

The foundation once helped a father who had lost his wife and was left with their three children. The children were soon taken away from him as he could not cope with the loss and began to drink. Then he was offered the help of a psychiatrist and psychologist and was able to find the strength in himself to cope with his loss. After the psychotherapeutic help, he was ‘revived’ and his children were returned to him.

Working with families with addictions

The charity Constanta, based in Tver, runs a project to help people who abuse alcohol. The order of actions to put help in place is as follows: First, you need to identify that a family is in need of help. Then collect as much information as possible, before determining the case worker who will go to the first meeting with the family. The case manager is a specialist who maintains a close relationship with the family and organises all the necessary help they will need.

A psychologist then starts working with the family. They determine whether it is possible to keep the children at home. Then a council of specialists meets with the family and decides how best to help moving forward in this given case.

The project team includes a director, a methodological consultant, a coordinator, a case manager, a narcologist and a consultant psychologist.

If the family agrees with the plan, actions can be put in place: appointments with a psychotherapist, medication and, if necessary, legal, psychological, and material assistance.

All cases are different. Sometimes medical drug support is not needed and psychological support is enough to help the family through their crisis.

Before a psychologist meets the family, they must show they can stop drinking at least temporarily. A contract is drawn up with the family for a year, during which time a person can return to the programme at any time and ask for help.

At the Sunny City foundation, the cost of annual treatment for alcohol dependence is 200,000 roubles per person. The rehabilitation potential of the family must first be considered. This is calculated after filling out a questionnaire covering all spheres of life.

30% of families immediately refuse. Out of the remaining families, equal shares have low, medium and high potential for rehabilitation.

Separating facts from opinion

Sometimes it is difficult for specialists to determine a plan for working with a family due to lack of information.

To fully understand how to help a particular family, there is a method in which a specific situation is divided into ‘facts’, ‘opinions’, ‘risks’ and ‘resources’. From this, the key problem is identified that must then be addressed.

Imagine, in your hands you have the report of a specialist working with a specific family: a mother who, according to her neighbours, binges alcohol for 3-4 days, a husband serving his sentence in prison and four children who were removed from their custody. The mother lives in a house in need of repairs. Full case study here.

In this case, opinions prevail and facts are lacking. It is impossible to say for sure whether there are relatives, what condition the mother is in, in what exact condition is the house, or whether this is a personal assessment by the specialist who drew up the report. It requires additional investigation.

“Fact is what we can prove, something documented. Opinion is pure judgement, which we make on the basis of certain situations and events,” emphasises Sunny City. “More often than not, much more data falls into the field of ‘opinion’ than ‘fact’. For help to be successful, it should be the other way round”.


Translated by Holly Battye

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