Hackney Recovery Service & Comet Children Centre – A Case Study

What do you do if you’re wanting to access drug and alcohol support but are the parent of a preschool age child?

It had become clear to professionals in Hackney that parents of preschool age children were struggling to access crucial support from drug and alcohol services without childcare provision.

To bridge this gap, the Family Worker from the Hackney Recovery Services, the Drug and Alcohol service provider, the specialist Substance Misuse Midwife, the Carers service and a local children’s centre came together and the Orbit Project was born.

The Orbit project in Hackney provides antenatal, postnatal and holistic support to parents and families with children under five where the parent is struggling with alcohol and other substance misuse difficulties.

Kirsty* was referred to The Orbit in November 2015 having presented at A&E when her baby was a few days’ old.  She was treated as an inpatient at the Mother and Baby Unit of her local hospital for postnatal depression and anxiety and it was agreed that she would attend The Orbit once a week. Prior to her pregnancy Kirsty had used alcohol to cope with her anxiety and depression.

Ellie has been working at The Orbit in Hackney, London, since October 2015. She is the Family Worker for Hackney Recovery Services, which is managed by St Mungo’s.

Kirsty’s* story

Told by Ellie

When Kirsty* first came in she was struggling emotionally and experiencing high levels of anxiety. Kirsty recognised that she needed to find new coping strategies as her drinking was putting her child at risk, but she was scared that she would be unable to manage without alcohol. She had a long history of problematic alcohol use, including a period of dependency, and had suffered with depression for many years.

Initially, I worked with Kirsty in one-to-one sessions while she was on day release from hospital. In these sessions we explored triggers, her habits and beliefs about her drinking and her relationship with substances.

After a couple of appointments, Kirsty agreed to us introducing her and her baby to the stay and play area where she was welcomed by the creche team, the specialist substance misuse midwife and other service users. This is a stimulating and fun area for both mum and child and it helped put Kirsty at ease and helped her to start believing that recovery was possible.

After a few months of accessing the stay and play, one-to-one appointments with myself, and having settled back at home, Kirsty felt able to engage with some of the group sessions. As a result, her confidence as a new parent seemed to grow, as did her confidence around her abstinence.

Kirsty maintained abstinence from alcohol use for almost nine months and engaged well with all aspects of The Orbit. When she first arrived here, her baby was subject to a Child Protection Plan. However, following her positive progress, her case was de-escalated from Child Protection to Child in Need.

Having been with us for just over one year, at Christmas 2016, Kirsty decided to visit her family. Her outpatient psychotherapy at her local hospital had just come to an end. This ending and her decision to visit family combined with the season and other complicating factors resulted in a lapse with alcohol. She had become distressed when she left the family to go home, and began drinking.

She was distraught and struggling to forgive herself. Her relationship with Orbit staff meant she was able to disclose this lapse and address it before it could become a full-blown relapse.

A plan was agreed with the Multi-Agency Team (MAT) at the children’s centre where Kirsty was attending the parenting programme and she was offered further targeted support.

As part of the targeted childcare agreed with the MAT, Kirsty was allocated a family support worker in the host children’s centre who worked with her to better understand her baby and linked her into other community groups and support outside of drug and alcohol services.

Kirsty has not drunk for almost a year now and is accessing universal childcare and starting college. Her case is now closed to children’s social care, but she continues to attend one-to-one appointments at Orbit with me using the stay and play as a creche. Without our support, Kirsty would not have been able to access the main drug and alcohol service as it is an adult-only service and cannot cater for families or offer creche time to facilitate access.

I’m delighted to see Kirsty and her baby thrive. They have both come a long way. Kirsty’s primary trigger for drinking was anxiety combined with isolation, so it’s really pleasing to see her grow in confidence and engage so positively in a variety of activities offered by the children’s centres while continuing to develop a support network through meeting other parents at the Orbit.


*Name changed to protect identity