The Troubled Families programme and the local public service system
Local authorities have signed up to the much heralded Troubled Families programme to “turn around the lives of 120,000 troubled families by the end of this Parliament”.
At the launch of the programme last November, the prime minister went on to say councils will lead on work with “a cohort of families with problems that are being passed on through the generations; that these families have members who are often vulnerable and in crisis; that they often cause problems to others around them, and that, despite huge efforts put in by so many, they absorb public services without their problems ever being fully dealt with”.
The intention is that this money will finance the early transformation of services to the benefit of the programme and identified families
Under a quasi Payment by Results system, councils will receive up to £4,000 for each family they successfully work with addressing issues around education, crime and anti-social behaviour, worklessness and potentially other locally identified issues such as health. There will be significant upfront ‘attachment fees’ being paid over the next few weeks to help initiate this work. The intention is that this money will finance the early transformation of services to the benefit of the programme and identified families.
This is the opportunity to pick up and continue to drive forward the integrated services agenda that stimulated a lot of the local improvements in coordinated service provision around children’s centres and localities, but whose focus was affected by the introduction of the less-focussed funding provided by the recently introduced Early Intervention Grant.
The challenge and opportunity is to drive forward improvements locally as the legacy of the network of local children’s centres; the roll out of the several year old Department for Children and Families Integrated Working Initiative (encompassing the Common Assessment Framework, the Lead Professional etc.); the Total Family initiative (which considered the whole system of services around the family), and Total Place which brought about a wide-spread consideration of how local services have been delivered to and met the needs of local people.
The Troubled Families programme has synergy with Neighbourhood Level Community Budgets and Local Integrated Services projects, as well as Whole Place Community Budgets in terms of prompting overarching system change for local public services. It brings partners together around the theme of service redesign and provides the resources to be able to bring in a third party player to facilitate local review, reflection and a potential redesign of services to better address and respond to local needs and demand in a holistic fashion, resulting in significant efficiencies.
There is a rich and locally tailored patchwork of provision across the country, with specific models of service delivery that have in some way evolved over recent years. Local practice has led to the development of Children’s Centres and extending the age range of 0-5’s and their families that the centres originally catered for. Some of these centres are the locality hub for coordinated or integrated services organised around the centre. There are also such multi-agency teams working as Family Support Panels. Some of these fora work to and have developed the Common Assessment Framework (CAF) to become the main or universal mechanism for assessment, referral and multi-agency service intervention regarding children’s needs. In cases the remit of the CAF has been extended to address whole-family and adults’ needs.
Some of this excellent practice ought to be reviewed, as it may have been a patchwork of innovations that has developed, but the whole sum of the different parts of the local system may still not add up in terms of achieving the best possible outcomes for local people given the resources available. There are other local fora such as Safer Neighbourhood Panels which need to be incorporated into these efforts to address the needs of troubled families.
Getting people into work is a key objective as an issue that can have the greatest implications for alleviating the conditions troubled families find themselves in. Much work needs to be done around European Social Fund family programmes and the Work Programme, also on local economic development and the skills agenda (including through Local Economic Partnerships). There is also much to be gained from working with schools, not only addressing exclusion and attendance rates, but working intensively with young people to prevent or ameliorate the situation they may be moving towards or find themselves in, in terms of the frequent negative cycle of poor achievement, behaviour, attendance, and potential criminality and worklessness.
There clearly needs to be a smart approach to reconfiguring or even re-designing existing service provision on a holistic basis. This needs to take into account issues around delivering services for prevention and early intervention, also on a targeted and universal basis.
This work is best lead by Children and Families departments within Local Authorities, but with the over-arching opportunity presented by The Troubled Families programme, it may best be governed at the whole council or area level. Clearly, there are many fora within which this work sits: the Local Strategic Partnership; the shadow Health and Well-Being Board; the Children and Young People’s Partnership as well as the Crime Reduction and Disorder Partnership. There is also the current reconfiguring of local health provision, with the enhanced local authority responsibilities regarding the promotion of public health. The challenge is to ensure that the Troubled Families agenda sits in the right place and that there is good coordination and linkages regarding this work between the different fora.
Service providers will become acutely aware of ‘failure rates’ and population movements will affect the income arising from the programme
The Troubled Families programme and the identification and work with specific families can create a focus around the process and/or results and perverse incentives that can arise with such a programme. Service providers will become acutely aware of ‘failure rates’ and population movements will affect the income arising from the programme.
It is therefore vital that local Troubled Families programmes and service developments progress in a way that meets the needs of a wide range of people in a local area during exceptionally challenging times. Service reconfiguration or redesign must be based on and responsive to local needs and demand. Local good practice is best fostered through facilitation, peer work, cross-theme and organisation workforce development, as well as by engaging with end-users and their experiences.
I’m currently working on this agenda with a London Borough. Last year I worked with Pendle BC and Lancashire CC to progress such working through a specifically designed Locality Plus model designed in collaboration with frontline workers to ensure service provision met families’ needs on a holistic basis (all the relevant services, throughout the lifecycle). Prior to that, I worked on Total Place in Bradford and throughout the Yorkshire and the Humber region to facilitate progress amongst local public service providers in this respect.
This is the only way to address the decades-old issues around the failure of local public services (and the national economy) to sustainably meet the needs and ameliorate the situation in which troubled (and forgotten) families find themselves in.
Adam Fineberg is an advisor on local public services www.fineberg.org.uk.