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Pike, Brigid (2015) Evaluating a substance use rehabilitation programme. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 54, Summer 2015, pp. 14-15.

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In partnership with the UCD School of Applied Social Science Community Partnership Drugs Programme, the Ballymun Youth Action Project (BYAP) and partner agencies engaged in an evaluative research process of the Boxing Clever Programme in 2013/2014.  The resulting report and the findings of this research project were launched on 6 February 2015.1

The Boxing Clever programme is a 20-week integrated educational, substance use recovery and fitness programme that aims to support participants to develop more resilient identities, while encouraging educational achievement, physical wellness and reduction in harmful or risky behaviours. Seven organisations support the programme, with five of these organisations and eleven practitioners, including boxing coaches, directly involved in programme delivery.

The research explored the impact and the outcomes of the programme for both participants and the community. Given the unique inter-agency structure of the programme, the research also investigated the efficacy of inter-agency relationships and communication in delivering the programme. The research methodology comprised a literature review, a comparison of pre- and post-programme measures in regard to attitudes, behaviour, knowledge and physical fitness, focus groups with participants on the programme, and a qualitative exploration from a worker’s perspective.

The authors of the report concluded that the research not only demonstrated the important role education and sport can play in substance use rehabilitation, but also the importance of inter-agency work in achieving the goals of rehabilitation and reintegration. The key findings are noted here.

Physical activity

  • - Positive changes occurred for the majority of participants in terms of physical endurance, core conditioning and upper body strength, and physical flexibility.
  • - Sport and physical exercise helped with improving mood.
  • - The majority of participants completing the programme maintained their drug-free status or reduced their drug use, and attributed this to their participation in the programme.

Boxing skills

As well as developing boxing fitness and skills, the boxing element of the programme had other significant impacts:

  • - Boxing facilitated and enabled the participants to socially re-integrate into their communities, communities that they were typically isolated or excluded from as a result their drug use.
  • - Boxing facilitated the release of anger and other emotions. Many of the participants lived in situations where personal and community violence were everyday risks, and the discipline and skills involved in the boxing element provided a way for participants both to defend themselves from violence and to express anger and other emotions.
  • - Boxing is a very individual sport. Boxers do not rely or use the skills of team members; their performance is completely down to them. While more challenging, this provides opportunities for personal growth, self-awareness and self-knowledge. One practitioner noted that the relationship between a boxing coach and participant is intimate: if the intimacy is built on trust and respect, this can also result in positive change, self-awareness and personal growth.
  • - The structure and approach of the boxing skills and fitness elements of the programme were designed and implemented to challenge gender norms associated with sports such as boxing. The research found that women both engaged, and sustained their participation, in the programme.

Education and social engagement

  • - The programme supported and facilitated the majority of participants to achieve a QQI minor award at levels 4 and 5, which is seen as a vehicle for further education.
  • - The CASC element of the programme was pivotal in supporting participants to understand substance use within their family of origin and the wider community.
  • - Participants reported positive changes as a result of participating in the programme, such as improved communication with their children and family. They also recognised the impact of their substance use on the community and a number identified this recognition as a motivator for sustaining positive change in their lives.
  • - Participants valued the support of their mentors, who provided a concrete example of the possible progression onto further education, sport or community involvement. The practitioners found the mentoring role pivotal in supporting participants, informing participant support and illustrating the possibilities for progression.

Inter-agency working

  • - The research found the inter-agency working between the seven agencies was effective due to the presence of trust, respect, giving and taking, flexibility and open and clear communication. Rather than a competitive view of each other’s contribution, practitioners valued each other’s work, and were found to be flexible and adaptable.
  • - Alongside the content and structure of the Boxing Clever programme, the inter-agency work supported participants through their change processes. Participants reported feeling valued, empowered and encouraged. The practitioners described how they sought to develop leadership, confidence and a sense of community belonging within the participants. This valuing of participants was also demonstrated in the resources and facilities allocated to the programme by all of the stakeholders.

The authors identified two major limitations to their research. (1) The sample size was small, with only 17 programme participants engaging in the research process. (2) The research considered the immediate impacts and outcomes for participants. The authors called for further research to consider the ‘long term impact and outcome of programmes that seek to build social and human capital, particularly those that utilise both fitness and education in the programme delivery’ (p. 57–58).

  1. Morton S, O’Reilly L and O’Brien K (2015) Boxing Clever: exploring the impact of a substance use rehabilitation programme. Dublin: Ballymun Youth Action Project. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/23545/

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