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INNOVATION

The pandemic may have forced us to adapt , but developing digitally delivered support has brought some exciting opportunities says Carwyn Gravell

A GREATER CONNECTION

Like many organisations , in late March 2020 we had to switch almost overnight to a telephonebased service – audio / video calls and text messaging – to maintain core support for our clients in the community . Once the initial phase was over we piloted a wider , more ambitious range of digital tools , aiming to further enhance connection with and between clients . The goal was to connect with people at every stage of recovery , from those not in treatment but who were worried by their substance misuse , right through to people in established recovery groups .

More than ‘ filling the gap ’ during lockdown , our findings suggest that these digital tools can enhance traditional models of

THE TOOLS

• Reach Out – an online , text-based chat service to reach people in need of advice and support ,
providing a ‘ friendly voice ’ of hope and motivation . This helped us to reach new people – the majority of callers who contacted us through this platform had never engaged with Forward before .
• Digital workbooks – self-help resources used by clients in our East Kent service to raise awareness and help address problematic use of alcohol , cannabis and powder cocaine during lockdown . For those who were motivated , completion rates were good and clients seemed to benefit – post-completion matrix measures show an improvement in both mood and anxiety .
face-to-face support in the future , offering benefits such as greater reach , safety and confidence , stronger engagement , service user empowerment and wider influence .
The services have proved extremely popular with both clients and staff – a survey of our service users in East Kent showed a high degree of user satisfaction , with the Kaizala chat scoring highest ( nine out of ten in terms of usefulness ). Even the most basic remote support ( telephonebased one-to-one appointments with key workers ) is seen by some as preferable , or at least more convenient , than face-to-face appointments that require travel to a physical ‘ hub ’. One ReNew client commented that , ‘ I was sceptical about joining this online group but I found myself letting myself be vulnerable . I loved it from the first session and had no worries about coming again ’, while an East Kent client said , ‘ I certainly wasn ’ t technology minded with no experience of online groups , chats or video calls – but I ’ ve seen fear and uncertainty replaced with confidence , courage and hope .’
While we can ’ t attribute causal effect to our digital and remote services , over the lockdown period our East Kent service has seen a steady increase in the amount of referrals , and the number of participants in our group programmes at the ReNew service in Hull has also increased . Though national average referral rates are not yet available for comparison , anecdotal evidence suggests that our experience bucks the trend of declining referrals into treatment
• Social messaging apps – to enable peer-to-peer connection and support for groups at various stages of treatment and recovery , using the Kaizala app . This became an efficient means for group leaders ( practitioners and peer supporters ) to keep in touch with group participants ‘ all at once ’ – in addition to regular one-to-one calls – as well as identify problems at an early stage and enable 24 / 7 support .
• Online group programmes – using video call software to continue delivery of structured group programmes for both service users and recovering families . This was really well received , and even those who were originally nervous or unsure quickly felt at ease once the meetings got going . For some , online meetings have provided a more secure and comfortable environment than face-toface meetings .
‘ Anecdotal evidence suggests that our experience bucks the trend of declining referrals into treatment overall , made worse during lockdown .’
overall , made worse during lockdown .
Forward is committed to further developing and evaluating these tools and approaches , as well as working with the wider sector , providers and commissioners , to see how innovations can change the shape of community substance misuse services in the future .
Carwyn Gravell is divisional director of business development at The Forward Trust
This article is a shortened version of information contained in our most recent edition of Pulse , a series of briefings from The Forward Trust for staff , partners , commissioners and stakeholders to communicate insight , innovation and evidence of our personal , social and economic impact . To read the full briefing , visit www . forwardtrust . org . uk / about-us / research-and-publications / pulse /
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