Sarah* is 13 and was referred to Young Oasis by her head of year at school. School had noticed that Sarah’s behaviour had become problematic and she seemed to be very frustrated and was often arguing with teachers or running out of lessons. When school spoke to Sarah, she told them that her mum was drinking very heavily and it was making her angry. Sarah lived at home with her mum and sister who is also now supported by Young Oasis.
When I first met Sarah, she told me that she felt really angry with mum. She was angry that she (mum) drank so much, she was angry that she lied about it and she was angry that no other children had to put up with this.
Mum was drinking vodka and wine regularly and would often hide it around the house. Sarah always confronted mum but mum would deny her drinking, which usually resulted in a heated argument.
Sarah couldn’t understand why mum wouldn’t just stop drinking.
My work with Sarah started by looking at ways she could make things easier for herself at home. We made safety plans and ‘what if’ plans to make sure Sarah felt in control of her own situation when mum was drunk. Part of this was Sarah not arguing with mum when she knew she had been drinking.
Sarah would often say that she felt annoyed at mum and that she felt like she didn’t care. I used age appropriate resources to help Sarah understand addiction and the cycle of change that mum would have to go through.
We started a progress star for Sarah and when asked about her relationship with mum, she scored it at 4 out of 10. Sarah wanted to feel closer to mum so we looked at ways she could spend time with mum when she hadn’t been drinking, as well as ways that Sarah could start to open up to her sister and her dad. At the last review, Sarah scored her relationship with mum as 9 out of 10.
I arranged for the family to meet with me in school to initiate an early help assessment. Mum didn’t attend. However, dad came and spoke openly. From there we were able to make solid plans for when mum was drinking and Sarah now had things in place for her to go and stay with dad.
After a month of working together, Sarah and I set her some goals that she could achieve for herself. One of these was in relation to her behaviour at school. We looked at ways that she could manage her frustrations in school. We got Sarah a stress toy which she found really helpful and we looked at other techniques of handling her anger. We identified people who she felt comfortable talking to. Gradually, Sarah made the changes in school and managed to stay off her ‘behaviour report’ which was a massive achievement.
Sarah and I have completed a book about her journey to understanding mums drinking and she now feels like she understands it much better and would even be prepared for mum going into treatment services.
Throughout this time, mums’ drinking has not improved at all. However, the way Sarah copes with it has changed dramatically. At her lowest point, Sarah scored her coping skills 3 out of 10. At her last review she scored it 9 out of 10. Sarah told me at a recent appointment that she feels better now because she knows she isn’t to blame and that she can’t change mums drinking.
Sarah’s school have noticed a marked improvement in her behaviour and Sarah feels that she can cope a lot better. Sarah started off having fortnightly appointments, this was reduced to once every three weeks and now Sarah has decided that she feels able to cope without regular appointments but is still receiving phone support whenever she needs it.