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The Option 2 project

Project Background

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In the UK there are estimated to be 250,000 – 350,000 dependent children living with parental drug misuse, and 920,000 children living with parental alcohol misuse. Parental substance misuse can impact on parenting skills: young people have felt that substance use prevented their parents from providing consistent practical or emotional care (Bancroft et al, 2004); deficits in parenting skills have been found to impact on the health and development of children with parents who misuse substances (Cleaver et al, 2007).

Rhoda Emlyn-Jones, a social practitioner based in South Wales, believed the services available for families with substance misuse problems were not wide, accessible, transparent, intense or ready enough to meet the needs of such families, she recognised the need for a more effective service (Emlyn-Jones, 2005). A visit to the USA put this practitioner in touch with ‘Homebuilders’, an intensive in-home family crisis intervention and education programme (Whittaker et al, 1990). This led to the formation of Option 2 .

Option 2 started in 2000 and is based in Cardiff. The service targets families where child protection workers are considering the need to remove the children. The intervention is short (4-6 weeks) and intense: the therapist is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Option 2 therapists use motivational, solution focused methods and techniques to empower individuals and families. The aim is to enable changes in behaviours which ultimately allow families to remain together (Hamer, 2005).

The initial evaluation of Option 2 carried out for the Welsh Assembly Government gave encouraging results. It showed reduced use of public care by ‘Option 2’ children and associated financial savings. Findings also indicated that the service was valued by children and families (Forrester et al, 2008a). However no evaluation of the impact of Option 2 on the welfare of children and families has yet been carried out, and in the light of some uncertainty as to whether keeping children at home is always better than removing them (Forrester et al, 2009), this in an important area for investigation.. The current project aims to remedy this situation and deepen understanding of the effects of service use by exploring the impact of service use on family substance misuse and on the welfare of children.