Strategy for troubled teens threatened by lack of funds

A programme helping troubled teenagers with behavioural problems and delinquency issues is working better than any method tried before, according to research.

However, despite a 50% rate of complete clinical recovery — compared to the 18% recovery rate of other services — lack of funding is putting the ground-breaking strategy at risk.

Families First, using the Family First Therapy (FFT) method, provides help and guidance to young people and their families across Clondalkin, Tallaght, and Ballyfermot. The model was developed in the US and adopted in Ireland in 2007 by the youth charity Archways.

Today, the charity is scheduled to release the results of a six-year evaluation of the programme, carried out by the School of Psychology at University College Dublin. It shows that more than half of the teenagers involved were considered clinically recovered after they and their families participated in the programme and revealed a dropout rate of only 7%, a much lower figure than other mental health and behavioural intervention initiatives.

Though the report recommends expansion to other parts of the country, a lack of funding may even see it discontinued in its present format. Since its inception, the initiative has largely been funded by Atlantic Philanthropies. This funding will cease next year.

Alice Ann Lee, an Archways Families First therapist, said that while 84% of referrals to the programme now come from State agencies, the State has yet to commit significant funding.

“They are just not paying for it,” said Ms Lee. “This doesn’t make sense, particularly when the results are so convincing and the lives of vulnerable adolescents and families are being turned around so dramatically.

“We now know that the Family First approach works very effectively with adolescents and their families, who are traditionally difficult to engage and resistant to other treatment. The evaluation report proves this today.”

Karen, a mother of two from Dublin, attests to the effectiveness of FFT. When her 12-year-old son became troublesome, she did not know who to turn to. He had issues at school, was easily influenced by older boys in the area, and started smoking cannabis. After bringing her son to a youth drug service and asking the gardaí to give him a talk, Karen opted for “tough love” and kicked him out of the family home when he also started dealing drugs.

“I thought it would just be a week or two, but it wasn’t,” she said. “Over the next few years, our relationship really deteriorated.”

When Karen started getting suicidal text messages from her son, who is now 19, she rang Family First.

“My son was going to end up dead if he didn’t get help,” she said. “He was in a dark place and nothing had worked, so I rang Family First and I was on the phone for an hour. They just listened. They rang me back two weeks later and we started the therapy.”

A few weeks ago, Karen’s son moved back home. He is off drugs, has decided to do his Leaving Cert, and is taking driving lessons.

“I don’t know what we would have done without Family First,” she said. “I don’t think my son would be here. Our relationship was totally gone, totally broken, but we’re back together now and we have to get to know each other again.”

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