Minors Rebuilding Their Lives in ‘Las Torrecillas’

Giving comprehensive answers to complex questions: Dianova Spain’s community-based residential addiction treatment programmes for minors

Adolescent in tunnel

Adolescence is a critical period of development where vulnerability can be amplified if there is problematic consumption and/or addictive behaviour – image: Shutterstock

By María José Vera Aires – The Dianova Spain Association programmes include those aimed at young people aged between 14 and 17 years with substance use disorders and associated problems. These programmes dedicate most of their resources to the treatment of addictions through a specific design and implementation that address the needs and distinctive characteristics of this population.

Young people in complex situations

Adolescence is an evolving stage, and young people have specific needs that must be taken into account. It is a time of change and a critical period of development where vulnerability can be heightened in case of substance use and/or addictive behaviour. The young people with whom we work are in complicated situations; addiction is often compounded by vulnerabilities such as mental health problems (for example, behavioural disorders, personality disorders, eating disorders and ADHD), difficulties in accessing education, lack of social support, different types of violence experienced throughout their lives, and other aspects that have to be considered as part of a comprehensive approach.

Supporting adolescents in the recovery process

When Dianova Spain saw the need to respond to this population and accompany them in the recovery process more than 20 years ago, it decided to open specific centres for minors with addictions and other related problems, adapting its programme for adults with problematic substance use and applying the experience acquired.

At present, the Association has two specific centres for minors: the Zandueta Therapeutic Educational Centre in Navarra, and the Las Torrecillas Therapeutic Educational Centre in Puente Genil, Córdoba.

An optimal relationship with professionals

Why is there a need for a specific focus on residential addiction treatment for minors?

The specific focus on minors is noticeable as soon as you enter the centres. The young people establish an optimal relationship of closeness with the centre’s addiction professionals, so the first thing that stands out is the need (and demand) for constant supervision in every step they take. And they do not accept the supervision of an authority figure, but rather a continuous and direct support from someone who gives them confidence and affection, which reinforces each of their actions. While adolescents generally want to stay away from adults, a frequent sight at the centres is that of a group of young people continually accompanied by the educational team from which they try not to separate at any time.

Illustration of adolescent

The main objective of Dianova’s therapeutic education centres is to minimise risk factors and, above all, to strengthen protective factors through constant supervision by the professional team – Image: Shutterstock

Empowerment and preparation for reintegration

One of the fundamental aspects that are worked on with the minors is the assumption of responsibilities, among which those of an academic nature stand out. It is also striking to see them with books, notebooks and pencils, and even to find them revising aloud because they have an exam, especially considering that a lack of motivation for study and truancy have been significant manifestations of their problems throughout their lives. This aspect is fundamental to the Dianova youth centres and overlooking it would make the minor’s reintegration back into their community much more difficult. This is owing to the fact that they will have to go about their life in a standardised context in which school is a fundamental part at that age. But it is even more striking to see that they do in fact resume their studies successfully and most of them go up a grade.

Sport as a vehicle for healthier lifestyles

Despite the problematic consumption, these young people do not usually show any significant physical deterioration but, as adolescents, they radiate energy that they need to channel continuously in dynamic activities. Here sport becomes particularly relevant, to the extent that professionals encourage it as a way to acquire healthy habits that are a departure from the previous lifestyle. These activities take place in external areas and within the centre, where they gradually end up turning any garden area into a sports centre.

Helping families recognise their problems

Lastly, work with the family is essential as the minors will have to go back to living with them, despite the fact that the adults concerned had shown that they had difficulties in addressing their problems. Family members must be accompanied and supported so they can develop adequate attitudes and aptitudes to help their child upon their return home. The first step is to be able to recognize that they at least are partly responsible for their children’s problems.

A huge congratulations to all our teens!

These are just some of the many specific characteristics of the Dianova Spain programme for minors, which would be difficult to summarise in this text alone. I would add that if working with them is somewhat difficult when the situation is normal, one can imagine how things were during the pandemic-related lockdown back in 2020. The adolescents would spend days and days locked up in the centres, with professionals for only company, and on top of this they would also have to keep on working on their own therapeutic and educational goals… And they did it!

On 4 June 2021, the Community of Madrid’s Directorate-General for Family and Minors recognised the two Dianova therapeutic educational centres for their work with minors during the pandemic, which filled us with pride. But we are even prouder of the young people who work every day to change their lives!