From isolation to connection

An illustration of parents playing with their children on swings

Isolation is the single biggest risk factor contributing to alcohol and other drug (AOD) misuse, homelessness, mental health issues, family and domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, and child and family reunification breakdown. Many families with AOD issues are isolated due to the breakdown of extended family relationships or tragedies.

For this reason, Odyssey House Victoria has created an innovative response that supports positive outcomes for isolated and vulnerable families. 

Developed and piloted over nine years, the Mirror Families practice model is a child-centred intervention program that focuses on creating and extending community connections for families where a parent has, or is recovering from, a substance use problem. It empowers families to create their own ‘extended family’ by recruiting people around them with an existing connection to the child, to commit to being part of the child’s future. It could be a neighbour, a teacher or a sports coach. This mirrors what happens in naturally occurring extended family structures.

For vulnerable families where a parent is addressing substance use, connection can be the difference between recovery and relapse and a deciding factor in whether families remain safely together, or not.

“I do need social networks otherwise I’ll go crazy again. I’ll isolate myself, get depressed, drink again, so it’s really opened my eyes to connecting with people and having relationships with them, whereas before, never.” (Sarah)

A mother’s experience

Odyssey’s aim to integrate the Mirror Families approach as a best practice framework in the Victorian child and family service system is now one step closer, thanks to generous philanthropic funding from the John T Reid Charitable Trust and The Edith Kemp Memorial Trust, Equity Trustees.

This support has enabled Odyssey to develop the first nationally accredited training in Mirror Families practice for those working with families and children across all sectors, including out-of-home care, community services, child protection, mental health, homelessness and alcohol and other drugs .

“They [the mothers] are learning how to parent, and at the start some don’t even know how to form friendships, let alone make play dates or have birthday parties.” 

A worker’s comment

To be delivered through Odyssey’s Registered Training Organisation (Odyssey Institute), this comprehensive training program is a highly interactive course incorporating podcasts, detailed stories of case studies, and videos of Odyssey workers, providing their expertise and practice. The course is supplemented with carefully selected academic and other resources. 

The new Mirror Families training program will be trialled during the remainder of 2020.