Final evaluation of our FED UP service

Topics: Substance misuse

Family Environment: Drug Using Parents: supporting children where parents have substance misuse problems

Although not all parents who drink or take drugs harm their children, we know that using substances can make it difficult to cope with the stresses of family life. So we developed Family Environment: Drug Using Parents (FEDUP) to support children whose parents misuse drugs or alcohol.

This final evaluation of FEDUP explores whether it gives parents more understanding of the way their substance misuse affects their child and improves parenting behaviour. It also looks at how successful FEDUP is in increasing children’s self-esteem; reducing their emotional and behavioural difficulties; and helping them process their thoughts and feelings. This is part of our Impact and evidence series.

Authors: Rachel Margolis and Prakash Fernandes
Published: 2017

Key findings

This evaluation is based on the experiences of 59 parents and 253 children who took part in the programme between September 2011 and December 2015. We measured the impact of FEDUP on these families and compared the results with a group of families who were waiting to start the programme.

Changes experienced by the children and parents who took part in FEDUP

  • A small but statistically significant improvement in children's emotional and behavioural wellbeing. By the end of the programme children had significantly fewer emotional difficulties and peer problems whereas children in the comparison group experienced more problems in these areas.

  • A small but statistically significant improvement in children's self-esteem and ability to process their thoughts and feelings. Children felt less angry and anxious, less responsible for their parents' behaviour and more able to talk to their parents about their concerns.

  • Statistically significant improvements in parenting. Parents who took part in FEDUP reported having more understanding of how their substance use affects their children, being more able to communicate with their children and establishing calmer home environments. Parents in the comparison group did not make any improvements in these areas.

The importance of parental engagement

  • Children whose parents actively engaged in the programme experienced more positive changes than those whose parents didn't engage.

  • Children whose parents didn't actively engage with the programme started the programme with a higher level of need, which got slightly worse by the end.

Sustained change

  • The improvements in children's self-esteem were maintained 6 months after completing the programme.

  • The improvements in children's emotional and behavioural problems and parents' protective behaviour did not appear to be maintained 6 months after the programme finished. This may be because:
    • the numbers of families we studied were too small to detect change
    • these families need more intensive support
    • some families faced on-going problems which continued beyond the end of the programme.

We asked children, parents and practitioners what changes they noticed during FEDUP and whether there were any aspects of the programme that particularly helped or hindered them.

  • Children found the group work element of the programme helpful. This allowed them to be able to meet other children facing similar challenges, have a confidential space to talk and learn strategies to improve their wellbeing.

  • It was important for children to know that their parents were engaged in the parenting element of the programme.

  • Parents felt it was important to have time to reflect on the impact their substance misuse was having on their family and gain an insight into their children's challenging behaviour. They found it helpful that FEDUP focused on their strengths and developed their confidence as parents.

  • Challenges reported by children include:
    • having ongoing difficulties at home
    • feeling that their loyalty to their parents was being tested
    • feeling that the other children in their peer group had a greater understanding of substance misuse than they did.

  • Some parents found it difficult to reflect on the past as part of the programme, and some were not ready to acknowledge the impact of substance misuse on their child.


"There are good changes in my family, it's a bit quieter, there's not a lot of shouting ... I can go to bed early, because when my mum was around she always shouted and I couldn't get to sleep."
(Girl, 11 years)

"I hadn't thought before about how things had affected [my son] – in particular him feeling insecure and as if people didn't want him and things like that ... I hadn't before thought that he must have felt these things."


Please cite as: Margolis, R. and Fernandes, P. (2017) Building children’s confidence and improving parents’ protective skills: final evaluation of the NSPCC FEDUP service. London: NSPCC.