Southampton: Creating women-friendly substance misuse services

In Southampton the substance misuse provider Change Grow Live has worked hard to tailor its services to women. This includes setting up women-only groups and offering support and treatment in different locations around the city.

The importance of women-only groups

Change Grow Live (CGL) has been running the substance misuse service in Southampton since 2019. At any one time they have around 1,400 clients on their books, just under half are women.

The support provided ranges from substitute medication through to detox and rehabilitation placements.  A range of structured groups are also available to explore thinking patterns and behaviours and these are run alongside therapeutic groups such as art, music and singing. 

Most of the groups and services CGL runs are delivered from its main clinic and a nearby community centre. But it has set up its dedicated women’s group away from those centres to create a more relaxed and safer-feeling environment.

Southampton Drug and Alcohol Support Service Criminal Justice Project Manager Abi Jones “We do run mixed groups, but some women prefer the women-only groups. They may have been victims of domestic abuse and may know some of the men who are under-going treatment.

“It also allows us to do some activities that are more tailored towards them. We have done equine therapy, taken women to a local zoo and a cat café.”

Enhanced criminal justice and rough sleepers services

More recently CGL has started providing an enhanced offer to rough sleepers and women involved with the criminal justice system – and again bespoke offers have been developed.

CGL staff provide treatment and group therapy at a drop-in centre for rough sleepers and there is a dedicated group there for women. Meanwhile, the team will also be starting to do some in-reach work into prisons so when sentences are coming to an end staff will carry out assessments and care plans so they can get immediate support when they leave, providing a more seamless service between prison and community support.

“It has been difficult during the pandemic,” said Ms Jones. “There has been a limit to what prison services have been able to offer in terms of substance misuse support so this in-reach will help bridge the gap between the two.”

For women who have been in prison or within the criminal justice system the service has recently launched a women’s SMART group, a nationally recognised programme which focuses on self-management and recovery training. Again, the group is being held away from CGL’s main clinic and is run at the Hope Street base of One Small Thing, a local charity which specialises in helping women who have been caught up in the criminal justice system.

Ms Jones said this group is already making a real difference. “The ladies attending the SMART group are beginning to thrive and reflect on the group content, giving examples of how they have changed their everyday behaviours in a positive way. They have set up their own WhatsApp group and have been supporting each other outside of group sessions. Tailoring services more towards the needs of women is a real priority for us.”

New rehab unit to keep women out of prison

The work is part of a wider local drive to prevent mothers from going to prison. Some 60 per cent of those receiving short prison sentences are also mothers, meaning their children end up in care and they lose their homes. After a short sentence, they are left with no family and no home and in a much worse situation.

But to combat that a new facility is in the process of being built at Hope Street to provide an alternative to a custodial sentence when it opens next year. It is a purpose-built 24-bed residential unit which will provide a temporary home for women and their children instead of being sent to prison along with support, education and therapy they need, including for substance misuse.

One Small Thing Founder Edwina Grosvenor said: “The mission for Hope Street is to redesign the justice system for women and their children. It sounds like quite a big task, but it's something I've always wanted to do - and now we're making it happen.

“Women will be able to have multiple needs addressed at Hope Street from training, skills, education. You name it, there's going to be a lot on offer.

“Our vision is to create a justice system that responds to trauma and understands trauma.

Because when staff and service users understand what trauma is and where it comes from, then the services are obviously better because of that.

Contact details

Abi Jones, Criminal Justice Project Manager, Southampton Drug and Alcohol Support Service: [email protected]