Helping addicted parents

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More than 2.6m people have seen Addicted Parents, the two-part BBC documentary on Phoenix Futures’ specialist family service. James Armstrong explains the back­ground to this powerful programme.

Based in Sheffield, Phoenix’s National Specialist Family Service was the first, and remains the only, service providing a residential rehab programme for mums and dads with their children. Filmed over a 12-month period the documentary highlights the challenges of achieving and sustaining recovery.

The first film in the two-part documentary tells the story of four mothers who have experienced long-term addiction. It shows how they manage the demands of a treatment programme and focus on developing their parenting skills under the close supervision and guidance of a multi-disciplinary team. The second film tells the story of one young couple facing an uphill battle to overcome their addiction to heroin so they can care for their two-year-old son.

Leanne Smullen: ‘We spent a long time ensuring that the TV production company shared our values.’

The documentary follows the parents through detox and an intensive therapeutic programme. As they learn to live without drugs, they struggle to come to terms with the past and the issues that led to their addiction. They also start to get greater insight into the impact their addiction has had on their families and their children.

Leanne Smullen, Phoenix’s family service manager talks about the planning that took place before filming began. ‘This was a difficult decision to make as our primary concern throughout has been the welfare of the parents and children in our care,’ she said. ‘We spent a long time ensuring that the TV production company shared our values and were genuine in showing the reality of what we do in a way that respects our staff and service users. It was a process we entered into with great care and we think that the final programme achieves our shared aims.’

Lambent Production’s managing director Emma Wakefield commented that ‘We have been very privileged to tell the story of this unique rehab for BBC2. Filming for a year we’ve followed families from the moment they step through the doors to the moment they leave – and into a new life beyond, discovering the work of the amazing team dedicated to giving these parents and their children a second chance.’

Phoenix hope the documentary will enable the public to see beyond the stigma and labels that limit access to support and treatment of any kind, whether formal or informal in the community or residential setting.

Phoenix were keen that the story told was one of hope for anyone affected by addiction. Karen Biggs, Phoenix chief executive explained why Phoenix made the film. ‘We know that enabling people in addiction and recovery to tell their story helps reduce stigma,’ she said.

‘Stigma that limits access to treatment and limits people’s success in recovery. The documentary gives an honest insight into the experiences of people who are striving for better lives for themselves and their families. We are immensely proud of the very brave families that have allowed their stories to be told. Their honesty and openness is challenging and emotional. We hope viewers will watch without prejudice or judgement. Most of all we hope the films give hope, comfort and encouragement to people affected by addiction.’

The two parts of the documentary had combined viewing figures of more than 2.4m, plus almost another 800,000 (so far) on iPlayer. This has helped give people with limited knowledge of the sector a deep and realistic insight into the issues and challenges that many people experiencing addiction face.

The documentary was the subject of articles written in The Sun, Mirror, and Evening Standard and broadcast on BBC Radio 5 Live further raising awareness of drug and alcohol misuse and the challenges of rebuilding a life and a future.

The general response from the public was encouraging and Phoenix received supportive messages from viewers across the country, such as: ‘Watching #AddictedParents; I think Phoenix Futures does fab work to help parents change their lives and overcome drug addiction’ and ‘#AddictedParents staff are amazing, calm and empathetic, but tough and take no messing, kudos to all. Not sure I could do such an emotionally challenging job.’

James Armstrong is director of marketing and innovation at Phoenix Futures

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