Troubleshooters to be sent in to help problem families

David Cameron will outline plans for a network of “troubleshooters” to give more focused support to England’s most troubled families.

The PM will say many will get targeted support with their own family worker – rather than dealing a “string of well-meaning, disconnected officials”.

He has promised to turn around the lives of 120,000 families by 2015.

But Labour said ministers had cut back Family Intervention Projects and work councils had been doing on the issue.

Under the government’s measure, families need to meet five out of seven criteria, including truanting children, parents with addiction and anti-social behaviour, to be classified as “troubled”.

‘Ruining their lives’

It is diverting £448m from existing departmental budgets over four years to pay for a network of people who will identify families in need of help, make sure they get access to the right services and that action is taken.

They will be hired by local councils and will report progress to Louise Casey, the newly appointed head of the Troubled Families Team.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles told the BBC: “What we’ve found is, if we force agencies from the probation service through to the NHS, through to social workers, housing officers and beyond – to have one of those officers in charge of the family, co-ordinating the approach to get the kids into school, to get folks off benefit into work and to cut down on anti-social behaviour, that does seem to work and we want to roll it out across the nation.”

He said while it was “conventional wisdom” that many of these families would refuse and are beyond help “what we have found is where a number of leading authorities have been able to bring the different agencies together, they were able to confront these families, they weren’t able to dodge between the different agencies and we were able to be frank with them that they were ruining their lives”.

In a speech in Birmingham, Mr Cameron will call for “leadership at the top, action in councils and results on the ground” to tackle the problem.

Ministers are modelling their strategy on the family intervention project adopted by the last Labour government in which a single social worker is sent in to gain an overview of the problems facing a family and to recommend the best course of action.

The prime minister will say this intensive approach can “work wonders” for families but social workers need help to get a foot in the door in the first place.

He will say family workers will “see the family as a whole and get a plan of action together, agreed with the family”.

“This will often be basic, practical things that are the building blocks of an orderly home and a responsible life. These things do not always cost a lot but they make all the difference.”

“And they will get on top of the services, sorting out – and sometimes fending off – the 28 or more different state services that come calling at the door. Not a string of well-meaning, disconnected officials who end up treating the symptoms and not the causes but a clear hard-headed recognition of how the family is going wrong – and what the family members themselves can do to take responsibility.”

Drug abuse

Mr Cameron says he will “demand results” from councils in return for the extra cash and say troubleshooters will be paid by results – success determined by whether levels of crime and truancy fall in targeted areas.

While the definition and number of troubled families has never been confirmed, a report last year by “family champion” Emma Harrison suggested there were 125,000 families who had never worked and from whom a lot of social problems stem.

Ministers say families suffering problems such as drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, poverty and anti-social behaviour, are costing the state an estimated £9bn a year in terms of spending on the NHS, the police and social services.

Most support for families is now provided through local authorities, although sometimes contracted out to other organisations. However funding for early intervention grants has been cut by more than 10%.

For Labour, Gloria De Piero said she welcomed any support provided to local authorities in tackling the problem.

But she added: “There is only so much a network of ‘trouble-shooters’ can achieve when family intervention projects in practice have been cut back and the ring-fence removed for local projects already working with families on the ground.

“In addition, the government has torn up Labour’s total place programme, which was bringing together all of the local agencies needed to provide services to families, and saved money, setting this work back.

“This is important work but if David Cameron demands results from local authorities, whilst pulling the carpet from beneath them while reforms are being shelved, this could be a wasted opportunity to properly expand Labour’s family intervention policies.”