Family system & networks

Young people’s attachment with parents and caregivers over time is integral to their development. Although young people are often portrayed as separating from family and establishing independent lives, Robinson and Miller (2010) cite the research of Markiewicz et al. (2006) and Robinson and Pryor (2006) to make the point that while the importance of peer relationships increases, it is not usually at the expense of family relationships.

Robinson and Miller (2010) describe five elements of a secure parent/caregiver-adolescent attachment developed by Schofield and Beek (2009). They are “… availability (helping young people to trust); sensitivity (helping young people to manage feelings and behaviours); acceptance (building the self-esteem of the young person); cooperation (helping young people to feel effective); and family membership (helping young people feel like they belong)” (p9).

The caregivers of clients also have a key role in regulating their experiences as they develop, particularly the degree of risk exposure. Parents or legal guardians have responsibility for protecting young people from harm. For young people who are minors, this is a basic right. Fair and reasonable discipline, matched to a young person’s level of development, creates the conditions in which young people can rise to challenges and learn to manage risk without feeling overwhelmed.

Poor family cohesion, parental conflict, lack of affection, and low attachment to family are associated with increased substance misuse (Mitchell et al., 2001). Bonomo (2003) adds that familial attitudes that are favourable to substance use and parental modelling are obvious influences on young people’s behaviour.

Among participants in a study conducted by the Youth Substance Abuse Service (YSAS) into client perspectives, Green et al. (in revision) found that most describe family backgrounds featuring significant conflict, disruption and heavy AOD use. The experience of neglect, abuse and trauma was commonplace. Many had first used substances with family members and described their relationships with parents and caregivers as either conflicted or characterised by neglect and a lack of care. Even so, they continued to ascribe significant meaning and importance to family relationships.