Family intervention shows the way
I am optimistic about public services – even during a period of austerity. It is just plain wrong to view the private sector as the source of innovation, enterprise and ingenuity versus the dead hand of the state. This weekend I was heartened by reading Louise Casey’s report into the design and success of family intervention projects across the country. Louise is now this government’s ‘troubled families czar’. She worked on homelessness, the Respect programme and community justice for our government. I am pleased that her talents for making a difference in some of the most tricky social policy areas have been recognised by David Cameron and Eric Pickles too. The family programmes which she reports on also straddle both governments. The programme started as a partnership between Action for Children and Dundee Council Housing Department in 1995 as a new response to dealing with antisocial families and the system surrounding them. Action for Children then developed the scheme in other parts of the north and, following excellent championing by Gill Strachan, who ran the Dundee Family Project, the Labour government committed to a national network of such projects in 2006 and reinforced this (with some more money) in the 2008 Youth Crime Strategy.
Focussing on families with a range of problems, including antisocial behaviour, housing and health issues and worklessness, the projects work to unpick the family’s problems, to challenge unacceptable behaviour and to rebuild the family. Louise identifies five key factors for success: a dedicated worker, dedicated to a family; practical ‘hands-on’ support; a persistent, challenging and assertive approach; considering the family as a whole – gathering the intelligence; and common purpose and agreed action
For families who ‘qualify’ for this programme the problem has not been insufficient attention from public agencies – often there are numerous professionals in touch with them. The problem is a lack of coordination, communication and challenge. In my experience, two things are needed to tackle these type of ‘silos’ in policy delivery – one person or point of contact and one budget. The family intervention projects have not yet managed to pool a budget for the individual family, but they do have one person who works to put everything together, to make the services – and the family – work properly.
There is growing evidence of the positive impact of this work. In the nearly 11,000 families receiving this support since 2007 (and this may be an underestimate), there is a 47 per cent reduction in the number of families with poor parenting, relationship breakdown, child protection issues and domestic violence; a 52 per cent reduction in those involved with crime and antisocial behaviour; a 35 per cent reduction in those with health problems including mental health and addiction; and a 33 per cent reduction in those with education problems like truancy and bad behaviour or adults with no work or training.
So a programme developed in the voluntary sector, enthusiastically adopted by local authorities, driven by central government and delivered by dedicated public servants is turning families’ lives around and potentially saving public money.
In a time of austerity, the way to protect public services is not to retreat into departmental and sector bunkers. It is to innovate, to find new partners, to pool resources and to value the individual worker and their relationships with those receiving services. I hope these principles are at the heart of our future work on public service reform and delivery.
antisocial behaviour, family intervention, Louise Casey, parenting, public services