The Community Hidden Harm Awareness Team (CHHAT) is a unique service based in Essex. CHHAT work with young carers in Essex aged 8-19 years who are affected by parental substance misuse, otherwise known as ‘Hidden Harm’. We spoke to young people three to six months after leaving the service to find out CHHAT's sustained impact.
What is CHHAT?
The main focus of CHHAT’s work is providing direct support to children and young people. There are two full-time and one part-time worker delivering one to one support, group sessions and activity days. The project also works with professionals, to change systems to improve awareness and support to young people experiencing ‘Hidden Harm’.
Between August 2017 and July 2020, the project has worked with 191 young people, the majority of whom were:
- Aged between 10-15 years old
- White British (reflecting the population of Essex which is 90.8% white British)
- Female (61% female to 36% male)
CHHAT work with young people who, due to a parent misusing substances, often need to undertake caring responsibilities. Living with a parent misusing substances means the young people CHHAT work with are often at risk of harm, with many on Child Protection or Child in Need plans. The risk CHHAT’s young people face can take the form of abuse and neglect from the parent. However, due to the detrimental impact of ‘Hidden Harm’ on mental health, many are also at risk of self-harm and neglect. Interviews found that some young people experience depression, anxiety and low self-confidence, and may neglect themselves, for instance, by not eating, drinking or sleeping properly.
Iimproved mental health
Impact of CHHAT
The evaluation found that young people after CHHAT had:
Improved mental and emotional health
Many young people CHHAT work with have experienced low well-being, with some speaking about feeling incredibly low, self-harming and neglecting their needs. CHHAT workers give young people a supportive space to share their thoughts and feelings, and learn useful techniques, for instance, around self-care.
Interviews with young people three months after leaving the service found sustained improvements in mental health, in particular young people having improved self-care, and no longer blaming themselves for their parent’s misuse.
'I feel less responsible, and I feel more like a child. I feel more like a teenager, more like I can express myself and be myself, rather than have to bottle it up and take responsibility all the time….[CHHAT] made you realise that, no matter what your parent was going through, you couldn’t fix it, and it wasn’t your fault.'
77% of young people reported improvements in their mental and emotional health
Improved communication and access to support networks
Young people feel less isolated, and have better peer and family support.
Young people described the CHHAT group as a non-judgemental, free space where they could share their thoughts and feelings openly. Since leaving the project, the young people in the group have maintained contact and continue to provide each other with support.
we are still there for each other, no matter what.
Young people feel better about accessing support from professionals.
Young people reported that their positive experience with CHHAT improved their view of professional support, and made them feel better about accessing support from professionals.
I feel like if I ever did need support again, I’d know where to go, and I would be a lot more open.
Improved protection from harm, through sustained protection from self-neglect and self-harm
CHHAT’s has focused on enabling young people to feel safer by improving their mental health and wellbeing, self-care, and their ability to talk about their thoughts and feelings when they are feeling low. CHHAT has also provided support to family members and kinship providers, those who have assumed care of a young person when a parent is no longer able.
By improving young people’s ability to share their thoughts and feelings with others, instilling self-care, and giving them coping mechanisms, young people now have increased protection from self-harm and self-neglect.
'I was just shutting myself off in my room, not really eating properly, not sleeping properly, I didn’t talk to anyone. I was just depressed, and then after I worked with [Worker], I started feeling so much happier that I could actually get my feelings out, rather than keeping ‘em into myself and shutting myself away.'
- Young people influenced services for the better, by taking part in participation and volunteering through CHHAT
- Young people have a greater voice in the wider system, through representation by CHHAT workers
- Younger siblings are more protected from future risk, as a result of becoming aware of CHHAT through their older siblings
- Professionals are better able to identify and support children and young people affected by hidden harm
- 99% of professionals reported an increase in their ability to support young people affected by ‘Hidden Harm’, as a result of attending the CHHAT professionals’ conference in 2019
Download the report
If you'd like more information, read the full CHHAT evaluation.