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Transition flat gives women chance to recover

The Family Support Service in Glasgow's East End is run by the children's charity Aberlour.

Unique in Scotland it is a rehabilitation centre for women with addiction issues, but accommodates not only women but their children too.

It also admits pregnant women - indeed 13 babies have been born in the service since it opened in November 2012.

Against the odds, given that children are often removed from the care of drug users, all 13 are still living with their mothers.

With 12 apartments, mothers have round-the-clock support and can attend a range of classes which help them with problems like identifying the triggers that normally lead to them using drugs, and avoiding relapses.

They participate on a voluntary basis, and can stay for up to six months, but this is often where their problems can resurface.

Service manager Alex Cunningham points out: "We often see a deterioration towards the end of that time, because of the fear of leaving. Women are more likely to relapse."

Realising that all the good work done over weeks with women could be undone at the end, Aberlour has now worked with Thenew Housing Association, its landlord for the service, to set up a new transition flat close to the existing service, where women can work towards independence rather than facing an abrupt return, often to the place their addiction took hold.

"Lots of women were leaving to become technically homeless," Mr Cunningham explains. "They had six months recovering and then ended up homeless, before maybe going back to their old tenancy or old area where they would potentially be triggered to use drugs again."

Katie Scott knows the benefit of the transition flat. She's been living there with her daughter Niamh for three and a half weeks after staying at the Family Support Service while she addressed a chronic alcohol problem and an ongoing drug dependency.

She had survived a violent relationship with a man -Niamh's father - who was previously convicted and jailed for domestic abuse against another partner.

She blames the alcoholism on a personal crisis. "Someone close to me got murdered and I drank my way through the grief."

But prior to that she had spent 11 years in prostitution, having become involved in the vice trade after moving to Glasgow from Burnley at the age of just 22.

"I gave up drinking when I was pregnant, and although I am on methadone still, I haven't used drugs for months," she explains. "I used heroin, crack, cannabis, and Valium. I fell pregnant by accident, because of the drink. I have done a lot of drinking and stupid stuff, but when I stopped using drugs I was able to stop the prostitution and that was a big part of the craziness."

In the comfortably furnished and well decorated flat, she has 12 weeks to get herself sorted out with new accommodation, with visits usually twice a week from the Aberlour support staff she already knows to check how she is getting on. Admirably, says Mr Cunningham. "She's a brilliant mother and her attachment with Niamh has been great from the very start."

This wasn't always the case, and Katie does not currently have care of her teenaged sons Conor and Bruce.

"Other services take you more seriously and treat you with more respect if you are linked in with this," she says. "I am hoping for an offer for a new tenancy soon."

I knew I wanted to get straight and needed that bit of help. It was a midwife who first suggested I move in to Aberlour."

Being in the flat helps women settle back into a community and make connections before gaining a tenancy nearby. There is a health centre, soft play and other facilities in the area.

Six women have so far been successfully rehoused by Thenew in this way.

"A lot comes down to people's circumstances," Mr Cunningham explains. "It isn't realistic to expect people to go from 24/7 support with workers there through the night to suddenly be up on the 12th floor in a multi storey. It is scary.

"If we can build in this period of adjustment, there is a better chance of recovery rather than relapse."

For Katie the progress she has made is remarkable. She is about to head for a summer break in Dumfriesshire at which both her sons will join her and her mother will be introduced to the new baby.

This would have been unthinkable only a few months ago she says.

Some mums want to move on and leave a dark part of their lives behind when they leave the family support service, Katie adds, but she goes back there for companionship and treatments such as Reiki and Aromatherapy.

"It was one of the best parts of my life so far. There's a lot of love in Aberlour, so there is," she explains.

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