Connections is the public face of the Drug and Alcohol Coordination Teams (DACTs). The DACTs are multiagency bodies made up of organisations from the statutory and voluntary sector and direct alcohol and other drug strategies in each health trust area.
The Public Health Agency has funded five Connections services in NI to be the operational arm of the DACTs. Connections are the first port of call in relation to alcohol and other drug issues within a locality for members of the public as well as service providers.
ASCERT manages the services in the South Eastern and Western areas, where Connections act as a link between communities and service providers, as well as having a role in awareness-raising and tracking emerging trends. They provide a range of awareness sessions for a variety of target groups including parents, community groups, sports teams and other organisations. Connections fills the role formerly occupied by Community Support and is also tasked with facilitating Local Drug and Alcohol Incident Protocols in response to issues that have arisen in any area.
As well as carrying out the tasks assigned to it by the DACT, Connections implements regional PHA initiatives at a local level. This includes Dry January, NI Alcohol Awareness Week, RAPID drug disposal bins and Responders.
Connections also promote effective, evidence-based drug prevention approaches. They are advocates for the Planet Youth Icelandic Prevention Model, which informs the activities and initiatives undertaken by the workers. They are also an authoritative source of guidance and support for other organisations who are keen to run their own prevention-based activities and can be contacted for advice and suggestions, which can avoid counterproductive outcomes or inefficient use of resources.
Another key element of the Connections role has been the establishment of Service Providers Networks. These events and initiatives bring together different services under particular themes. They encourage wider partnership working, not only within the alcohol and another drug field but also across sectors, including mental health, family support and children’s services.
Connections also have a promotional role in regards to collating and distributing relevant information to the general public. As well as keeping abreast of emerging trends and communicating these via social media (@NIDACTS on Twitter, Drugsandalcoholni on Facebook) and more traditional means, workers can help individuals navigate the different services in each trust area to aid them in identifying the most relevant source of help and support. To this end, Connections produces a “road map” booklet and can also signpost to get people to here they need to be in a timely manner.
Western Drug and Alcohol Forums
The Western Connections Service supports community based drug and alcohol forums that bring together local services and stakeholders to collaborate and develop local initiatives.
RAPID is a regional PHA initiative led at a local level by Connections with partners such as councils/ PCSPs, PSNI, community groups and stakeholders. RAPID bins are secure boxes where members of the public can anonymously and safely dispose of unwanted medication and other drugs if they are unable or unwilling to go to a pharmacy. The bins are emptied on a regular basis by the PSNI and Connections, when the contents are recorded and disposed off. Unused medication can be a risk around the home, as well as making it a target for burglary so these bins allow individuals to clear out their medicine cabinets and reduce the potential for these substances to be diverted for unapproved use.
Communities who wish to install a bin enter into an application process where Connections, the local council and PSNI assess the need and suitability. Interested parties can complete an expression of interest form here
Every year 15 individuals from each trust area are recruited and go through the OCN accredited training course to become Responders. This PHA funded initiative is designed to train people who may come into contact with members of the public to be able to have effective conversations around alcohol and other drugs, and if necessary, signpost them. As well as recruiting suitable candidates, Connections support them through the training and beyond, staying in contact and being available if needed. Responders come from a variety of different backgrounds- from volunteers in sports clubs and food banks, community groups, taxi drivers, hairdressers- basically, anyone not from a drug or alcohol service but who has a front-facing role that may see people opening up to them.
For more information on Responders and the next recruitment drive, contact your local Connections service.