"reducing alcohol and drug related harm in our communities"


Steps to Cope: Celebrating a Lasting Legacy

Leading representatives from across the statutory and community/voluntary sectors came together on World Mental Health Day (10th October 2019) at a special celebration event in Omagh to hear about the impact and outcomes achieved, and the legacy planning arrangements for, the Steps to Cope project which draws to a close in October 2019.

Steps to Cope was developed as a structured support for teenagers across Northern Ireland which aimed to increase their resilience and coping to protect them from the potential harm from parental alcohol and substance use.

The project was delivered between 2014 and 2019 as a partnership between ASCERT, Barnardo's NI, The South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust and AFINetUK, and was made possible by the National Lottery Community Fund’s (formerly Big Lottery Fund), Impact of Alcohol Fund.

It is estimated that at least 40,000 children in Northern Ireland are living with parental substance use[1], 40% of children on the Child Protection register and 70% of our looked after children are there as a direct result of parental substance use.

In 2016, 34% of clients on the NI Drug Misuse Database indicated they had dependent children[2]. The impact of parental alcohol or drug use is termed ‘Hidden Harm’, as the harm it has on young people is often hidden from view and their needs are not met.

Throughout its lifetime, Steps to Cope has trained more than 500 practitioners across all Health and Social Care Trust areas and more than 200 young people have been directly supported by the project. Over three-quarters of those young people supported reported having developed increased levels of resilience.

The event held in the Silverbirch Hotel included guest speaker contributions from: Koulla Yiasouma (Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People), Gary Maxwell (Health Development Policy Branch, Department of Health), Dr David Hayes (Queen’s University Belfast), Lorna Templeton (Addiction and the Family International Network, AFINetUK) and Gary McMichael (Chief Executive of ASCERT) pictured above with Jillian Patchett, ASCERT's Chairperson.                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

Alongside hearing details of the evidence gathered from the project delivery and a summary of the accumulated learning that can inform future intervention planning of this type, the invited guests were also introduced to a series of free, practical resources to support young people living with parental alcohol or substance misuse or with mental health difficulties in their family, launched as part of the Steps to Cope legacy. These will include:

  • A mobile optimised online self-help programme that young people can access for support.
  • A resource for schools to deal with hidden harm entitled 'Understanding and Responding to Hidden Harm: A Guide for Educational Professionals'.
  • Training and materials to support local organisations and practitioners to embed the Steps to Cope model in their work.

(L-R) Lorna Templeton (AFINetwork), Elena Brewer (ASCERT) & Colleen O'Hagan (ASCERT)

Speaking at the celebration, Gary McMichael, Chief Executive of ASCERT said: “For young people that are living in a home where one or more of the parents has a substance misuse problem or has mental health problems, this can be a difficult environment, constantly living with stress and strain from what is going on.

“Steps to Cope was a short intervention to support the young person that has been shown to make them more resilient to the challenges they are facing. We have been training people working across the statutory and voluntary sectors to be able to use Steps to Cope as a way to support these young people.

“Today we have launched a new website, which is the first of its kind where young people can get information that will help them and access an online self-help tool they can work through. This will enable more young people living with these issues to support themselves and access other help if needed.”

Special guest speaker, Koulla Yiasouma, NI Commissioner for Children and Young People, commended the outcomes achieved by Steps to Cope, she said: “Young people living in difficult situations have benefitted from the structured support and services available through Steps to Cope.

“It is important to acknowledge and learn from the project’s success which supports wider work being undertaken across Northern Ireland to build a ‘trauma informed’ society.

“We need programmes like Steps to Cope and early intervention to lessen the trauma and mental health difficulties experienced by children who have adverse experiences.”

(L-R) Gary Maxwell (Department of Health), Paul Millar (Barnardo’s NI), Michael Dobbins (The National Lottery Community Fund NI), Gary McMichael (ASCERT), Koulla Yiasouma (NICCY), Dr David Hayes (Queen’s University Belfast), Lorna Templeton (AFINetwork) & Ed Sipler (South Eastern Health & Social Care Trust)

If you would like to find out more about the impact of the Steps to Cope programme and to access its free legacy resources, please visit: www.stepstocope.co.uk

[1] Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, 2009

[2] Department of Health 2017

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