About us


  • Comic Relief and the Alcohol Hidden Harm Toolkit
  • Background – the five AHH projects
  • Credits and acknowledgements
  • Contact us
  • Feedback

Comic Relief and the Alcohol Hidden Harm (AHH) Toolkit

The hidden harm done by alcohol abuse in families is a major cause of social problems in this and other countries. The damage that abuse of alcohol can cause is all too visible – but there are hidden harms too, on families,partners, relatives and especially on children.

So in 2007 Comic Relief funded a series of projects across the country to seek ways of supporting and improving services that would help practitioners do better and in turn increase the benefit for their service users.

The outcome was a substantive report detailing how this could happen. And now the authors of that report, Jenny McWhirter and Esme Madill, have come together to create this practical Toolkit, to help service providers examine their existing services in a number of ways to identify how they can make that provision better, and form an action plan to do so. It focuses on two areas for action – design and delivery of AHH services

It’s practical and involving - activity-based to enable users to see for themselves how their services can be better, both in the design - what they do - and the delivery – how they do it.

The impact of this Toolkit will be twofold:

  1. The provision of better, more focused services for service users
  2. Enabling service providers – staff and volunteers – to respond better to service users’ needs

The Toolkit is directly aimed at service provider managers and staff to enable and empower their frontline people to deliver better services.

Comic Relief is proud to be supporting this important initiative that will have a direct impact on the design and delivery of alcohol hidden harm services throughout the country. By improving AHH services, the Toolkit will contribute to a reduction in harm from alcohol and improved outcomes for children, their families and communities.

 Background – the five AHH projects

In 2007 Comic Relief invited organisations to bid for funds to deliver services to improve outcomes for children with one or more parents who misuse alcohol. Five Alcohol Hidden Harm services were initiated in April 2009. From the beginning, Comic Relief described the Alcohol Hidden Harm programme as a ‘learning project’ with the aim of understanding as much as possible about the kinds of services and interventions which could make a difference to children. The ambition for the programme as a whole was to improve resilience among children whose parent or parents misuse alcohol. Resilience was definedas ‘a universal capacity which allows a person, group or community to prevent, minimize or overcome the damaging effects of adversity.

To maximise the learning from the investment, Comic Relief also commissioned an evaluation of the services over three years. The evaluation team adopted a case study approach, using a variety of methods to understand the way the services, which were all new and in different kinds of communities, developed and the impact they had on children, their families and communities.A summary version of the evaluation report is available here. This toolkit is based on the lessons learned from that evaluation.

Who we are

The Toolkit was written by:

Jenny McWhirter

Dr Jenny McWhirter is an independent researcher and author. She has nearly 30 years of experience in research, development and evaluation of interventions promoting the health and wellbeing of children and young people. Before becoming a freelance consultant Jenny was an academic and also worked for the voluntary sector leading on education and evaluation. Jenny has always sought out the best evidence for effective practice and enjoys working with practitioners to help turn the findings of research into guidance for effective practice.

Jenny writes about, and trains others in, evaluation, building the capacity of practitioners to learn from the work they do with young people and their families.

Jenny’s most recent book is co-authored with Nick Boddington and Adrian King: ‘Understanding PSHE Education in Primary Schools’, published by Sage (2014).

Esme Madill

Esme Madill has more than 20 years of experience in planning, delivering and evaluating projects in the not for profit sector. She works with grassroots community groups and national charities. Her commitment to involving the users of services at every stage of the process underpins all her work. She has particular expertise in working with refugees and asylum seekers and women affected by abuse. Early in her career she trained as a social worker and worked with women and children affected by HIV.

In 2002 Esme founded Refugee Action York (RAY) a registered charity providing advice and support to refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. She was Chair of RAY from 2006 – 2008 and continues to co-ordinate RAY’s information and support services. She has written for the national and specialist press on asylum and immigration.

Website development – Atto Partners, Belfast www.attopartners.com

Project management – Colin Forbes www.colinforbes.com


Comic Relief and the authors of this Toolkit would like to thank the following for taking part in the development of this Toolkit:

  • The staff, volunteers and clients of the five AHH projects that formed the focus of the evaluation:
    • Bristol Drug Project
    • CASA, Islington
    • DISC, Hartlepool
    • Hertspeak, Stevenage
    • Lifeline, Leeds
  • Practitioners and others who took part in the consultation group meetings

Contact us

We welcome feedback on this Toolkit and your experience of using it. Do let us know if you have comments and suggestions. Your feedback will help us with future developments we may make.You can email the AHH Toolkit team at [email protected]

Please also use this email address for any technical questions or issues about the website. We’ll get back to you as soon as possible.