Kindreflex rolled out to help families living with substance abuse


Flanders has launched a programme to help medical professionals and social workers to address the needs of parents with mental disorders or addiction issues

It takes a village

Flemish health and welfare minister Joe Vandeurzen has introduced a new system whereby psychological and medical professionals can assess the situation for children living with a parent who has psychological or addiction problems. The Kindreflex concept and related materials are being distributed to hospitals, clinics, social workers and others who come in contact with these parents.

Health care and social workers often deal directly with the patient but not with the patient’s family. According to the ministry, some 378,000 children in Flanders are growing up with a parent with a mental illness or substance abuse problems.

Kindreflex offers a system by which counsellors and other health-care professionals can assess if a child of a patient is in an unhealthy situation at home. The first step is to simply approach the subject of the patient’s family and home life and encourage them to discuss their skills as a parent.

Kindreflex was developed by Flanders’ health, welfare and family support network (SWVG) a government-funded initiative made up of experts from four Flemish universities. It not only provides assessment tools and advice on how to deal with a family situation but contact information for others working in the field in Flanders.

Dare to discuss

“We need to hold children not only in our hearts but keep an eye out for them,” said Peter Adriaenssens, a child and youth psychologist at KU Leuven’s Psychiatric Centre. “We want to show every vulnerable parent and child that our care also extends to the family. Every medical professional is a link in the total care chain. Parent and child should be surrounded by a network that can call on each other on behalf of those who need them.”

The tools involved in Kindreflex are aimed at support of the patient as a parent, only bringing the child into the process if it appears that it is necessary. “Research shows that clients with children worry about the impact of their own problems on their children’s wellbeing,” said Evelien Coppens of SWVG. “Many of them would like help in fulfilling their roles as mothers and fathers, but don’t always dare to ask.”

Flanders is also considering the futures of children in such households in its development and funding of Kindreflex. “About one-third of children who grow up with a parent with these kinds of problems develop similar problems,” said Vandeurzen. “So while it’s important that Kindreflex emphasises how crucial parenting skills are, it must also concentrate on the vulnerability of the children.”

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