DOZENS of children affected by parental alcohol and drug abuse have been given fresh hope for the New Year thanks to a unique Glasgow service.
Scottish children's charity Aberlour opened a refuge for mothers battling addictions earlier this year. It is the only one of its kind in Scotland.
The service allows mothers to remain with their children in bright, modern flats, while they receive treatment and support under the same roof.
Since the service opened 25 families have been helped, with 21 children accommodated.
There have also been some new arrivals – 5 babies have been born to mothers receiving help.
"That's five babies who have been born healthy and safe," says Ruth McDonald, the unit's deputy manager.
Estimates suggest as many as 65,000 children in Scotland live with parents battling drug problems, with thousands more affected by alcohol abuse.
Aberlour say they would like to open a refuge in every city in Scotland, such is the demand for the service. However funding is tight.
The women come from a variety of backgrounds, some may be battling generations of alcohol abuse and poverty.
Ruth says: "No one is judged, everyone is given the respect they deserve.
"We get women from all backgrounds, women with degrees, women coming from a background of domestic abuse.
"Women who are three weeks pregnant and they really want to detox.
"The benefits for the mothers is they don't have to leave their children when they are going through recovery.
"We want to minimise the trauma for mothers and children."
Women spend between two weeks and six months in the purpose built flats but families can sometimes stay longer. There are 12 flats available and rooms can take up to 3 children. There is everything you would expect in a modern, furnished flat.
Staff make sure there is a welcome pack for women , filled with basics such as tea and coffee, cereal and milk.
Families also have access to a communal kitchen and living room area where they can get the support of other women, if they wish, although there is no pressure to mix.
The service doesn't just offer a lifeline to women. Children are also offered support.
The service offers a specialised service called Theraplay, which helps children get used to human touch.
There are also parenting and cookery classes for mothers, who may have missed the generational advice most new mums take for granted.
Women are mainly referred by social workers, but occasionally midwives step in. Staff come from social work, psychotherapy and childcare backgrounds, which means the women have access to a wide spectrum of support.
One mother came to the service in November with her baby son, to escape an abusive partner while he was in jail.
She said: "This was my chance to get in here without him knowing.
"I came straight from a women's hostel, I had a lot of problems and addictions, I was also pregnant.
"The day I got here I made sure I had a lot of Valium because I wasn't walking into a rehab straight. I got here and I was very defensive.
"The staff were great, they knew what I was up to.
"I was trying my best for the staff to ask me to go, or to walk out, but they are so supportive. So I stayed. I was here for two weeks, then I asked if I could get the six months.
"Don't get me wrong, I struggled so much. My ex-partner got out of prison so I struggled to stay, but I did, because I had my baby to think about.
"It's not all me, it's about my son. There is no point being here if you don't want to be here.
"If it wasn't for Aberlour I would in prison or dead, but now I have the chance to have a life with my son and be happy."
Leaving the sanctuary of the flats is difficult for some families but the charity tries to assist as many women as possible to find new homes. However this can prove challenging, given the widespread shortage of social housing. Aberlour was also forced, because of funding cuts, to axe an outreach service which supported women in the community.
"It is a challenge," admits Ruth. "What we are trying to do is break the cycle of addiction."
In November, the Evening Times' sister paper, The Herald, launched a campaign to help Aberlour continue the work it does to support thousands of vulnerable children.
The charity works with 6000 children and families each year, through more than 40 different services across the country.
However, like all charities, it is facing huge challenges at a time when income from donations and other sources is harder to come by.
This coincides with a sharp increase in demand for services as public funding for youth provision is cut and the harsh economic climate means more families are struggling and in need of help.
To donate online go to www.aberlour.org.uk/heraldappeal or follow the link on heraldscotland.com
To donate by post, make cheques payable to Aberlour and send to: The Herald Aberlour Appeal, FREEPOST SCO1126, Stirling FK8 2BR.