Abstracts: August 13th, 2014

This report from the Department for Communities describes progress of the troubled families programme, the challenges being addressed and the insights gained into the underlying issues.

Troubled families are families who both have problems and often cause problems – where children are truanting or excluded, where there is youth crime or anti-social behaviour and where parents are not working. They also tend to have other problems including domestic violence or drug or alcohol abuse.

In addition to the obvious human costs of this, families also costs local services, and the taxpayer, a lot of time and money – which was adding up to a burden on the public purse of an estimated £9billion a year.

In December 2010, the Prime Minister set the ambitious goal of turning around the lives of 120,000 troubled families by 2015. To drive this forward, the Troubled Families Programme, led by Louise Casey CB and reporting to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, was launched in April 2012, backed by £448 million drawn from the budgets of six government departments.

The troubled families programme promotes a different approach to working with families in order to help them to change or turn their lives around. By working with the whole family in a way which recognises they interact and influence each other rather than viewing them as individuals with problems. The programme relies on a dedicated worker or dedicated team to get to the underlying problems, rather than individual services responding to the presenting problem of each family member.

Staff dedicated to the family develop a relationship by being persistent and building trust with them in order to challenge them to make the changes they need to, step by step, rather than containing and monitoring their problems. Where necessary, specialist services are drawn in at the right time for the family rather than services being available on the basis of meeting thresholds and availability.

Through working with families this way, problems such as domestic violence, dysfunctional relationships, mental and physical health problems can be addressed, families can start to function and the outward manifestations of those problems start to improve – children are back in school, there is reduced crime and anti-social behaviour,

Physical and mental health problems contribute significantly to the difficulties families face. Some 70% of families have poor health, 46% have a mental health problem and 32% a long standing illness or disability. Over a third of children suffer from mental health problems and a fifth from a long standing illness or disability.

Two years on from the start of the troubled families programme, the latest data shows that 111,574 families have been identified for help; 97,202 families are being worked with in the programme; and 52,833 families have now been turned around.

As well as tackling the immediate issues of improving the lives of people and cutting costs for the taxpayer the programme provides the opportunity to have an in-depth look at what is really happening in the lives of some of the most difficult and often elusive families, and to try to understand what problems they face and how they may have become entrenched in such difficulty.

These insights into troubled families help in understanding more about why services, which have often spent vast amounts of time and money on these families, have failed to bring about lasting change. This learning can be applied to the future.

Understanding troubled families is published by Communities and Local Government.