Friday, 16 December 2011

120,000 'Troubled Families'

David Cameron has announced a network of 'caseworkers' and £400 million (from existing grants to local government) to coordinate services to 120,000 so called 'troubled families'. This is part of the government's response to the riots last summer and what David Cameron calls the 'responsibility deficit' whereby people are apparently disconnected from community and family.

This initiative is not new, it is a reworking of the 'Family Intervention Programmes' piloted by New Labour. Some of the 'FIPs' were targeted at families engaged in anti-social behaviour and some at families living in poverty. FIPs recognised that most of these families already have a plethora of professionals involved with them but their combined efforts are not coordinated. The FIP workers not only engage with the whole family but also the professional network. FIPs have been effective but they are very time intensive and there are families who refuse to take part.

David Cameron appointed Louise Casey, a civil servant who was policy adviser on Anti-Social Behaviour to New Labour, to lead on this new approach to families. However in the new scheme the 'caseworkers' will not work directly with the families, instead they will coordinate the professionals currently working with them. At the press conference announcing the initiative Louise Casey pointed out "The typical profile of a rioter is 35% out of work or on benefits, 42% on free school meals, 66 % with special educational needs, only 11% with five plus GCSEs, and 70% living in the 30% most deprived post codes, and 36% excluded from schools."

Out of work, free school meals, deprived neighbourhoods describes poverty not poor parenting. Students with unmet special educational needs are unlikely to do well at school, more likely to become frustrated at schools and are therefore more likely to be excluded. That is a problem with the educational system, although parental interest in and support for education is certainly very important in success at school.

Louise Casey quoted an opinion poll saying "86% of the population thinks that the riots were caused by bad parenting."

So here we have policy lead by opinion poll which lets the government off the hook of dealing with the real problems of lack of jobs and rising poverty. The approach is based on existing good practice but watered down because caseworkers will not be working directly with families. Money for the intiative will be diverted from other necessary local goverment services for children, young people and families. Coordination is important but any family worker, counsellor, therapist or youth worker will tell you what actually works, what makes a difference is not the system, or the model or the theory but the relationship with the family, client, service user, young person.

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