Family Matters

Troubled times

 Identifying the families who most need support is proving a tricky task for local authorities, but they must keep the key issues firmly in sight, says Joss Smith

2012 saw all 152 local authorities in England sign up to the Troubled Families scheme and seek to identify families in their areas that fit the government’s definition of ‘troubled’. The government’s Troubled Families team, based at the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), has asserted that the 120,000 families our local authorities should be focusing on are characterised by an involvement in youth crime or anti-social behaviour, have a child who is regularly truanting, an adult on out of work benefits, or cause a high cost to the taxpayer. 

A DCLG report released in December heralded the success that family interventions are having on families in our communities identified as being the most troubled. Using data gathered since 2007 this report highlighted a 59 per cent reduction in anti-social behaviour, 39 per cent reduction in drug misuse and a 47 per cent reduction in alcohol misuse between entry and exit from the project. 

These statistics show the success of family intervention – with many of the projects having been set up by the previous administration – in working with a broad range of families with often very complex and enduring needs. The percentage improvements reported by the DCLG publication are great news and show the benefit of working with whole families in a systemic way. However, the report cannot serve as an evaluation of the current troubled families programme.

Some commentators in the field have indicated that in fact local authorities are still struggling to align who they believe are the most troubled families, with the definition supplied by the DCLG and used to structure payment. Commentators have stated that when you speak to local authorities and their partners and ask them who are the families that worry them the most and cause the highest cost to the taxpayer, they are likely to say the families where there are domestic violence, substance use, alcohol use, mental health issues and children on the edge of care. 

These families don’t necessarily fit with what the government are asking them to target. So local authorities are stuck in a tricky situation to try and make the best use of the funding opportunity through the troubled families programme, but also make sure that they do extend whole family intervention support to those most in need in their communities.

At Adfam we would like to see more emphasis on tackling issues such as drug and alcohol use, domestic violence and mental health, and for local authorities to have the real freedom to work intensively with some of our most disadvantaged families and provide an intervention that the evidence suggests can hold real benefits for all the family members.

Joss Smith is director of policy and regional development at Adfam,