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Helen’s mission to tackle Hidden Harm in Warwickshire

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Published on: November 22, 2022

Teachers in Warwickshire are being shown new ways to spot if a child or young person is suffering from the hidden harm of someone in their family having alcohol or drug issues.

Helen Butler, Hidden Harm “Stars” worker at Warwickshire Children and Young People’s Drug and Alcohol Service (CYPDAS), is embarking on a round of presentations to try to make sure the youngsters’ plight is not missed. Often, they do not speak about problems at home and may not cause problems at school, so can be hard to identify.

Helen said: “I felt there was a need for something to be put in place so that these young people can have more support with their emotional regulation, to get them engaged more in education and in a safe environment.

“We’re aiming it at teachers, pastoral leaders and perhaps teaching assistants. We want to make schools a bit more trauma-informed to realise what they could be dealing with.”

The series of presentations begins before Christmas and then continues at different schools in Warwickshire in the New Year.  

She continued: “My mission is to make teachers very aware of how a young person’s wellbeing can be affected if they’re living with a parent who’s going through alcohol or drug use. That trauma can have an impact on their education and daily life and can cause serious harm and trauma in later life.”

Helen said in an interview on the Compass YouTube channel, it was hoped school staff would become more involved and trauma-informed. And that they would be able to continue to support children after the CYPDAS intervention.

“We want them to continue helping that person be able to regulate their emotions. We will be telling teachers what warning signs they must look out for. For example, if someone becomes very withdrawn but is very good at their schoolwork.

“They might want to stay late at school – but they’re not always identified because they’re not causing any trouble. It’s recognising that actually this person might not want to go home.

“And we actually look at helping young people recognise the early warning signs. So that’s like looking at the breathing, the fight and flight response and teaching them about what’s happening and then how to then ground themselves when they’re struggling.”

She explained: “Our service is about making sure we provide a safe, warm, genuine environment where they can talk about their feelings, fears and concerns about their parents, talk about their emotions and to try and process what’s going on and realise  that they’re not the only one going through this.

“So this is what we are actually going to be looking at more with this service, and this is how we develop it and improve it.”

Stuart Haste, Service Manager at CYPDAS, said: “The work that Helen and other staff does is of profound importance, due to the impact problematic use of controlled substances can have on our young people.

“I am not saying that all adults that choose to use substances are bad parents, but at times an adult’s focus is on their own behaviours and not on their child’s emotional and environment needs.” 

And he continued: “Helen’s work can keep children safe! She does this by being there for the child. She actively listens, hears what the child has to say and does not react out of context. She supports their education around why people use substances and refers to other specialist services when required.

What is hidden harm?

Hidden harm is the term commonly used to describe parental/carer substance misuse and it’s effects on children and other family members. – Barnardos

Children are often not known to services. They suffer harm through physical and emotional neglect including exposure to harm and poor parenting. – National Hidden Harm Project

A child may be at greater risk where substance use is uncontrolled and chaotic e.g. if the parent/carer alternates between states of severe intoxication and periods of withdrawal, especially if substances are mixed. The risk factors for the child may be heightened during periods of withdrawal.

Parents/carers exhibiting a reduced responsiveness to the child’s needs and increased levels of anxiety relative to themselves as individuals.