New government unit to co-ordinate help for troubled families

A dedicated family unit is to be set up to co-ordinate intensive support for troubled families across central government departments, CYP Now has learned. The unit is a key part of David Cameron’s bid to transform the lives of the 120,000 most troubled families by 2015.
At present, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), the Department for Education (DfE) and the Department for Work and Pensions all fund various schemes to support families with multiple needs, as do local authorities and charities across the country.
A DCLG spokesman confirmed the unit will be housed in the department. It will synchronise existing work and bring together central government funding streams to fund such initiatives.
Christine Davies, chief executive of the Centre for Excellence and Outcomes in Children and Young People’s Services, said the unit has the potential to end the fragmented way in which family intervention work has been carried out to date. “Rather than having a scattergun approach and a series of parallel initiatives, which is a real danger, particularly post-riots, we need to be absolutely clear about what makes a difference,” she said.
“Many governments have spoken about providing a co-ordinated national approach, but have never delivered it. I don’t think such a unit should set tight prescriptions about local solutions, but it ought to be clear about the ingredients of any successful local approach, provide advice to local areas and maybe help overcome some of the difficulties there are about pooling budgets locally.”
Davies, a member of the National Family Intervention Strategy Group, which advises the DfE, argued that local areas need to base their work with families on the “essential ingredients” of evidence-backed schemes.
“There isn’t just one single intervention or agency that makes a difference for families with multiple needs,” she explained. “The team around the family concept is at the heart of all these interventions, as is a multi-disciplinary plan, co-ordinated by a key worker. Those are the three essential ingredients, but sometimes we lose our focus on those proven things.”
One of many initiatives supporting family intervention work is the Big Lottery Fund’s £20m Improving Futures programme. The charity 4Children’s Enfield Family Turnaround Project has been shortlisted to receive funding through the scheme.
4Children chief executive Anne Longfield said the unit should look to voluntary sector schemes such as Improving Futures to develop a model for family intervention work that can be applied nationally.
“While I’m sure government wants to keep all its localism principles, the commitment to 120,000 families is something that is going to need a national push,” she said. “There hasn’t been a lot of national direction about how this work can be implemented. So it will be imperative for the unit to work alongside charities delivering programmes, to make sure local authorities can gain support from those who are testing out new approaches.”
David Derbyshire is head of performance and consultancy at the charity Action for Children and another member of the DfE advisory group. He said the government needs to ramp up efforts to increase funding for family intervention work to hit the 120,000 families target by 2015.
“The problem is that family intervention projects and intensive family support services are funded at a relatively small scale,” he said. “They tend to be funded to meet the needs of the 40 most expensive or troublesome families in a local authority area within 12 months. Their track record with those 40 families is successful in pretty much every area that they’re running. But, of course, they are only meeting the needs of 40, so if the next 40 most vulnerable families turn up, it becomes more of a challenge.”
Derbyshire suggested that a lump sum should be pumped into the system to deal with the 120,000 most troubled families and allow professionals to start intervening early with those whose needs are not yet acute.
“If we carry on as we are, services will continue to meet individual needs,” he said. “But unless you’re going to provide this kind of intensive support on a greater scale, they won’t be able to stop families needing intensive support in the first place.”
More than 10,000 families have been supported through intensive family intervention work to date, according to the Department for Education
David Cameron wants to transform the lives of the 120,000 most troubled families by 2015, which the government estimates cost the taxpayer £4bn every year – between £250,000 and £350,000 for each family
Community budgets are a key part of the government’s drive. They give councils new freedoms to pool local budgets to co-ordinate joined-up intensive support services for families. Sixteen pilot areas started using community budgets in April
Other examples of schemes working to help families with complex needs include the government-backed Working Families Everywhere initiative, run by Emma Harrison – who founded welfare to work provider A4E – and the Big Lottery Fund’s £20m Improving Futures programme.