SPHR researchers from Fuse have co-produced a freely available children’s picture book. Produced as part of a SPHR Impact Accelerator Award, the book will help facilitate conversations between trusted adults and children who experience parental alcohol or drug use.
Parental alcohol and drug use is a major public health and safeguarding concern, which results in poor outcomes for families. The book is based on two linked SPHR projects which examined the needs of affected families. The Safe Space project, led by Ruth McGovern and Debbie Smart, found that many parents and caregivers find it difficult to talk to their child about substance use and the impact upon the child and family. Meanwhile, PhD research by Cassey Muir explored the experiences and support needs of children and young people.
“Young people told me they had tried to do a lot of things to change their situation themselves, often without support in place. They said parental substance use wasn’t talked about.” Says Cassey “While adults weren’t sure how to talk to children and what level of detail was needed to start the conversation. We wanted to create a situation to facilitate having those conversations in a safe way. A children’s storybook was identified and prioritised as an intervention to help address these themes and support children’s emotional and social wellbeing.”
Researchers and other stakeholders worked with freelance writer Danielle Slade and artist Josie Brookes. The main themes from the research as well as quotes from young people were shared with them.
“We knew we didn’t want drugs and alcohol to actually feature in the book, and that the protagonist would not be a child. Themes discussed included mountains, the weather, and space.” Says Cassey.
Big concepts were brainstormed at a workshop with parents. This was where the theme of stars and space was decided upon and how the story’s initial narrative was developed.
From this, Danielle mocked up the story and shared it with parents and children in a creative workshop. Alongside the researchers, this workshop was facilitated by Josie, Danielle, and a young person with experience of childhood parental substance use. The activities included free writing to music, drawing different characters, and brainstorming additional plot ideas. After this, Josie was able to develop the characters and galaxy, which were shared with families for feedback. Teachers from local primary schools and practitioners from Coram Life Education and Coram Beanstalk also supported the development of conversation prompts.
Once the storybook illustrations had been finalised, the story was sent to a local publishing service. Two hundred copies have been sent to primary schools and services that support children and families with parental substance use across England.
‘Twinkle, twinkle Arti’ tells the story of Arti the star. In a galaxy not too far from Earth, the young wishing star is getting ready to grant her first wish to get her twinkle, but life for Arti is getting bumpy and things keep getting in the way. The book includes prompts for teachers, parents, caregivers, and other trusted adults to help discuss and reflect on the different characters and themes throughout the story.
The book has been developed so within schools it can be used in whole class situations and in one-to-one settings. It’s a fun story with fictional characters but the messages and support it contains could translate to other situations such as mental health or domestic violence.
Author, Danielle, says: “This project has been a highlight of my writing career so far. Working in true collaboration with the university staff, illustrator and the families has made this book truly authentic in its aims. The book is more than just a story, it is a tool for change and a helping hand for children and adults that find themselves struggling to communicate in a situation that is as difficult as our main characters”.
Kira, a young person involved in the project, says: “To take the findings from our lived experience and create something real for families and people beyond the world of research has been brilliant. It has really brought about another positive, rewarding outcome from my hard life experience that still impacts me now.”
Researchers are hoping to gather feedback and translate the findings into different formats such as an animation and materials that can be used for an adolescent audience.
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Researchers and young person at book launch event. From left to right: Ruth McGovern, Kira Terry, Cassey Muir and Debbie Smart
Listen to podcast by Cassey Muir discussing her research on social and emotional resilience in children and young people affected by parental substance use.
Read blog about Cassey’s research
In the media
- Free children’s book supports conversations around parental substance use
- New children’s story book published to help families affected by substance use