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Tackling troubled families

Plans to radically transform the lives of the country’s most troubled families were today announced by the Prime Minister David Cameron and …

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Plans to radically transform the lives of the country’s most troubled families were today announced by the Prime Minister David Cameron and Communities Secretary Eric Pickles.

Almost £450 million has been made available in a new, determined, cross-government drive to turn around the lives of 120,000 of some of the country’s most troubled families by the end of this Parliament.

New figures show that troubled families cost the tax payer an estimated £9 billion per year, equivalent to £75,000 per family. This is spent on protecting the children in these families and responding to the crime and anti-social behaviour they perpetrate. The costs are exemplified by the fact that children who live in troubled families are 36 times more likely to be excluded from school and six times more likely to have been in care or to have contact with the police.

A new Troubled Families Team based within the Department for Communities and Local Government and headed by Louise Casey CB, has been established to join up efforts across Whitehall, provide expert help to local areas and drive forward the strategy.

The £450 million means the Government will offer up to 40 per cent of the cost of dealing with these families to local authorities - but on a payment-by-results basis when they and their partners achieve success with families. For the first time, the Government has outlined the headline goals and how success will be measured with the following, straightforward, criteria:

  • children back into school
  • reduce their criminal and anti-social behaviour
  • parents on the road back to work, and
  • reduce the costs to the taxpayer and local authorities.

The new programme will also fund a national network of Troubled Family ‘Trouble-Shooters’ who will be appointed by local councils. The trouble-shooters will oversee the programme of action in their area. Their responsibilities will include making sure the right families are getting the right type of help, that sanctions are in place when needed, and that positive results are being achieved with the troubled families in their area.

This will be backed by a new, concerted national push from the Government to give this vital work a renewed impetus and higher profile, but also build on the successful work already going on in areas of the country.

The Prime Minister, who formally launched the programme during a visit to a Family Intervention Centre in Sandwell, said:

Last year the state spent an estimated £9 billion on just 120,000 families, around £75,000 per family. Our heart tells us we can’t just stand by while people live these lives and cause others so much misery. Our head tells us we can’t afford to keep footing the monumental bills for social failure. So we have got to take action to turn troubled families around.

This immense task will take new ways of thinking, committed local action, flexibility and perseverance. But I know too that it’s a task we can’t shirk. People in troubled families aren’t worthless or pre-programmed to fail. I won’t allow them to be written off. So we must get out there, help them their lives around and heal the scars of the broken society.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles added:

120,000 families are a big problem for this country. If you live near one you know very well who they are. And local services like police, health and schools also know who they are, because they spend a disproportionate amount of time and money dealing with them.

These families are both troubled and causing trouble. We want to get to the bottom of their problems and resolve them - for their own good, and for the good of their communities.

The Local Government Association Chairman, Sir Merrick Cockell, in support of the announcement, said:

Improving lives for families and residents is at the heart of what councils do and closer working between public sector agencies like job centres, schools, police, probation officers and social services locally will get better results and cost less.

It is great news that the money announced today will go to local areas to build on much excellent work already underway. We must ensure this support gets to where it is most needed and is not tied up in endless bureaucracy and form filling.

We are pleased Government has recognised the need for all departments to work much more closely with councils at a local level. This is vital to help us overcome historic hurdles which have stood in the way of the huge savings and greater local accountability this coordinated approach can deliver.

The Government has also released the estimated number of troubled families in each upper-tier local authority area based on indicative numbers in previous government research. These are based on a family suffering from five out of seven specified disadvantages.

Councils will now be asked to look to identify actual families, based on factors such as truanting, antisocial behaviour and cost to public services.

Simultaneously, the Department of Work and Pensions announced that some European Social Fund funding will be used to help some of the country’s most disadvantaged families get back on their feet and into jobs. The programme will provide targeted and personal support for tens of thousands of families and will be delivered by leading welfare to work providers working with local authorities and local organisations.

Notes to editors

  1. A troubled family is one that has serious problems and causes serious problems. In every troubled family there are a range of factors including parents not working, mental health problems, kids not in school, the family causing crime and anti-social behaviour and costing local services a lot of time and money routinely responding to these problems.

  2. The £9 billion estimate comes from government figures and is the cost to both central and local government of the most troubled 120,000 families. £8 billion of the £9 billion is spent purely on reacting to the trouble caused and experienced by these families. Currently, only £1 billion of the £9 billion is spent on targeted interventions which could be taken as helping turn the troubled families’ lives around. This equates to an average cost of £75,000 per family.

  3. There are compelling reasons for turning troubled families around. Download infographics from Flickr (external link).

  4. Cost effectiveness of family intervention can be seen in the following example:

A Hertfordshire family consisting of six people of which four children were living with their mother and who were all subject to a protection plan. Children’s services were considering legal proceedings to remove all the children including an unborn baby. Two other children were living with their paternal family. The mother was involved in a number of relationships which have been abusive and were fuelled by drug and alcohol abuse. There were a number of health problems, including mental health as well physical problems that left the mother needing crutches.

The family fully engaged with the intensive family intervention and the key worker worked in partnership with the whole family. A clear multi-agency plan was put in place and all agencies and family worked in partnership. This resulted in the children being taken off the protection plan although they were still children in need. There had been reported improvements from all agencies, school issues had improved, and the mother was coping well with the baby and is engaging with the children’s centre. She had also attended a Strengthening Families parenting course, and was able to transfer the skills she learnt to her family.

As a result of the intervention Hertfordshire estimated that they were able to avoid costs of £112,688.

  1. The evaluation report, Monitoring and Evaluation of Family Intervention Projects And Services between February 2007 And March 2011, by the National Centre for Social Research, published today, shows that intensive intervention to support and challenge troubled families is effective in turning their lives around. For instance:
  • 81 per cent of families engaging in anti-social behaviour at the start of the intervention fell to 34 per cent when they finished
  • 35 per cent of families involved in crime had fallen to 20 per cent
  • 58 per cent of families that had children truanting, excluded or behaving badly at school fell to 28 per cent.

The report has also shown, for the first time, there is a real impact of the programme controlling for other influences on family outcomes. A family getting intensive support and challenge is twice as likely to stop anti-social behaviour as one not getting the intervention.

A summary of the report is available here: (external link).

  1. The estimated number of troubled families in each upper-tier local authority area based on indicative numbers in previous Government research can be found here: (Excel, 50KB), and and explanatory note of how the figures were generated is available here: (PDF, 24KB).


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Published 15 December 2011