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Last Updated: Monday, 22 May 2006, 16:22 GMT 17:22 UK
Giving families back their future
By Jemima Laing
BBC News, Plymouth

Trevi House
Trevi is home to 13 women and up to 16 children
"She's so loving and patient and just really loves her mum and younger sisters."

Twenty-eight-year-old Victoria sounds like any other mother describing her eldest child, her voice thick with pride.

But she has recently marked the second anniversary of her two older children being removed from her care.

Her involvement in a violent relationship led to the children being placed permanently with their grandmother.

Soon after the girls were removed, Victoria's occasional use of drugs became more frequent and she was soon heavily dependent on heroin and using crack cocaine.

The relationship with her two older daughters since has been characterised by long periods of absence punctuated with phone calls and occasional visits.

Founded in 1993 by Roma French, Cathy Parker and Gerry Cadogan
Has helped more than 500 women and over 600 children
Has 17 staff, eight out-of-hours, and one relief worker

But the birth of her third daughter nine months ago led Victoria to seek help at a pioneering residential centre in Devon, which aims to keep families together while mothers work to conquer their addictions.

She is now one month into her treatment at Plymouth's Trevi House and acknowledges this could be her last chance to reunite her family.

"Four days after my daughter was born I self-detoxed and haven't touched anything since," she says.

"I have been working for nine months to get me and my daughter here."

She now feels ready to make the difficult but vital changes to steer her life, and those of her children, along a new course.

Angie Brooks, the project's director, must have seen that determination in Victoria too or she would not have been offered the 800-per week place at the facility.

"You usually get a feeling," says Angie.

"They have to be ready and really want to come here and make the changes."
They come here so sad, the children so sad, and can't even see a future
Angie Brooks

The centre is one of only a handful of its kind and was founded in 1993 by Roma French, mother of comedienne Dawn, and two others.

It was originally able to offer places to six families but is now home to 13 women and up to 16 children from all over the country. Fees are paid by whoever referred them, such as social services.

Trevi House project director Angie Brooks
Angie Brooks has been project director for eight years

Trevi is drugs and alcohol-free, although a methadone prescription is permitted.

"That makes Trevi quite different - they can reduce (their methadone intake) gently, overseen by the centre's doctor," says Angie.

She describes watching their transformation from people who don't like themselves very much to women regaining their "zest for life" and rediscovering their children as a "privilege".

"There can be a multitude of issues. They come here so sad, the children so sad, and can't even see a future."

Many of the women admit they would not have taken the step towards rehabilitation without being able to bring their children too and the family atmosphere is integral to Trevi's philosophy, reinforced by structure and routine.

While their children are cared for during the day either at one of the centre's two nurseries or at nearby schools the women work on their problems and do the housework and cooking on a rota basis.

Dining room of Trevi House
The women are encouraged to socialise without drink and drugs

At the end of each day, once the children are in bed, the women meet and learn another crucial skill; the ability to socialise without drugs or alcohol.

However, the centre has lost 72,000 in the past two years after a change in funding criteria and the past 12 months have been a struggle, says Angie.

"We've had to work very hard and weren't sure if we could keep this project alive."

But with help from a local charity the centre has recently appointed a fundraiser and, though Angie predicts the next year could be "rocky", she feels certain Trevi will survive.

But the residential phase, usually between six and nine months, is only half the story.

The aftercare offered by the centre is almost as important and many families move permanently to Plymouth to stay close by.

Sonia has taken things a step further than most and six years on from her own residency she is now Trevi's cook.

'Great feeling'

"I absolutely love being part of everything that happens here. I'm on the other side of it now and it's a great feeling."

And she says her son too still draws constantly on what he learnt during his time there.

"He was quite an angry little boy when we first came here but he's turned into a gorgeous boy who still holds on to everything he's learnt here everyday."

But inevitably not every story has such a positive ending.

"Of course there are some who do relapse," says Angie.

"I think sometimes it's just not their time. You just hope they will be able to take a bit of Trevi with them wherever they are."


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