Who are the 'troubled families'?

Posted by Emma Scowcroft / Tuesday 03 December 2013 / Professional relationships

The troubled families programme is back in the news today with the National Audit Office's new report on its progress, hot on the heels of Eric Pickles’ statement to the House of Commons last week. Both agreeing that lives have been 'turned around' because of the programme – unsurprisingly to differing degrees.

Amidst the numbers and the political jargon it’s easy to forget the real families who are at the heart of this programme.

For the families involved, the stakes are high. Some have had their children taken into care, face eviction because of rent arrears or have received complaints from neighbours about anti-social behaviours. However, each family is unique and each has their own story.

Where do we fit in?

In 1995, Action for Children (then NCH) set up the first Family Intervention Project (FIP) to work with families with multiple problems. Eighteen years on, we understand the families and we know the difference it can make.

Before we start our work with the families they are typically in touch with several agencies: social care, housing, the police, health, educa­tion and youth offending services. Often we find the co-ordination between agencies to be patchy and the support that families receive confusing and contradictory.

More worryingly, we find families feeling completely disempowered and almost incidental to decisions made about them. We work to empower families to make decisions for themselves so they can take control of their lives and improve outcomes for their child(ren).

On a practical level we help parents to develop basic skills, like getting children up and fed in the morning, clear up, prepare meals and put in place bedtime routines. It’s important to understand that some parents are learning these things for the first time, as they were not effectively parented themselves.

The difference it makes in numbers

  • 89% of young people reduced their offending or anti-social behaviour
  • 81% of young people improved their relationships with family members
  • 89% of young people improved their educational attainment    
  • In 89% of cases, there is an improvement or stabilisation in the mental health of parents or carers

This may all still sound theoretical; so here’s what it means in real life:

Barbara's story

“I have two older children in care and six year old twins at home. I referred myself to the project as I knew that I needed help to keep my children. I gave up my home to live in the Core House linked to the FIP.

“I used to have a mentally abusive partner, and I have suffered from mental health problems for years - they suspect that I have bi-polar but I’m not sure about that.

“I think that the main change in me is my ability to cope now. Cope with the kids...cope with money…cope with my illness. The main difference is my confidence level. When I moved into the core house I had no idea what to expect…I was isolated and afraid and I didn’t care about anything because I was ill.

"Gradually my worker Eleanor has built my confidence and she has worked with me on ways to cope with life...budgeting, planners etc. She even got me onto a ‘Ready for Work’ course so I have a CV now and I am actively looking into work. The twins are in school and are attending regularly so their maths and English is really improving. Eleanor puts me at ease – it feels friendly and comfortable with her.

“A big thing that I’ve learned is how to enjoy time with my kids.

“Because my confidence has improved I am happier and we are all settled…really settled. I am a better parent and I have more control over the kids…things won’t end up like they did before...I am stronger now and I can cope.”

So we've helped Barbara and her family but there's still more to do...

Whilst most people agree progress has been made under the troubled families programme there’s still more to do. Between 2008 and 2015 it is estimated that the number of families with five or more vulnerabilities (the original definition of a troubled family) will increase from 130,000 to 150,000 - an increase of just over 14%.

For us this means for every child whose life has been transformed by the troubled families programme, there is another waiting for the same help.  

So we must not lose sight of the bigger picture, or crucially of the indivudual children and families who are at the heart of this programme.

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