Families affected by gambling

21 Jul, 2022
Families affected by gambling
Katie Palmer du Preez

The new report, published today on the Ministry of Health website, was prepared by the Gambling and Addictions Research Centre at Auckland University of Technology (AUT).

“Policy and services have developed with a focus on the problem gambler. Services now support families and whānau, but there isn’t a clear understanding of what that support should look like,” says a co-author of the report, Associate Professor Jason Landon, Head of Psychology and Neuroscience at AUT.

“Our research suggests there is a need to collaboratively engage clinicians, researchers, cultural experts, and affected families and whānau to better understand what social, relational, and cultural recovery entails, and build additional services to support that,” says Landon.

The negative effects of problem gambling can include loss of employment, debt, crime, the breakdown of relationships, and deterioration of physical and mental health. These harms can be experienced not just by the person who gambles, but their children, partner, wider family and social network, employer, community, and society as a whole.

This report looks at the quality and effectiveness of support for families harmed by gambling and identifies opportunities for improvement.

An analysis of New Zealand gambling services data shows that family and affected others receive minimal assistance, mostly in the form of a one-off motivational support session conducted outside a clinical setting. Only one in 10 group therapy sessions were attended by family and affected others. Couple and family sessions accounted for just two percent of treatment sessions with those experiencing gambling problems.

AUT researchers interviewed 40 experts in gambling harm and addictions services, ranging from policymakers and academics to clinicians and people with lived experience as a family member or affected other of someone who gambles.

Gambling harm reduction services and practitioners felt they could be far better resourced to develop family recovery models and support services in partnership with the communities they serve.

Dr Katie Palmer du Preez, lead author of the report and Senior Research Fellow at the AUT Gambling and Addictions Research Centre, says there needs to be more engagement with families regarding their expectations of problem gambling services or preferences in terms of support, which makes it hard to say what a family-centric service might look like.

“Family engagement has been framed by approaches driven by researchers and clinicians. These approaches have been privileged over lived experience and the notion of partnership in recovery support,” says Palmer du Preez.

There were, however, some gambling services that engaged with a high proportion of family clients. Culturally appropriate services appear to be inherently family inclusive, particularly those based on Māori, Pacific and Asian worldviews.

Te Rangihaeata Oranga Trust gambling services, located in a small region on the East Coast, engaged with almost 10 percent of family clients nationally.

“Our research suggests that Māori approaches provide a useful model in addiction harm reduction. There are important links between indigenous healing practices and cultural concepts, and recovery from addiction,” says Palmer Du Preez.

Māori are disproportionately harmed by gambling. The report concluded that living Te Tiriti o Waitangi, by realising Māori aspirations for self-governance and autonomy, would improve support for New Zealand families by centralising whānau and whānaungatanga.

“We need to understand how families view gambling harm and recovery. This requires us to expand our approach and look beyond the individual, and to conceptualise gambling harm and recovery as social and relational,” says Palmer Du Preez.

International research suggests that addictions services tend to be guided by one approach to engaging and supporting family and affected others, and little is known about how to successfully implement and sustain family-focused practice.

The overarching recommendations of the report include – a more holistic family-centric approach; in-depth engagement with families and affected others (through participatory research, service design, and evaluation), and creative workforce development.