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Troubled Families progress eases pressure on children's social care

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The Troubled Families programme has made “significant progress” with a higher proportion of families this year while reducing pressure on children’s social care services, according to the government’s annual evaluation report.

The report, published today, says the programme has supported 289,809 families since its launch in 2015, with 104,809 families joining in the last 12 months.

Between April 2017 and March 2018, 92,245 families (33%) were classified as making significant progress by meeting agreed improvement goals based on their identified problems, compared to 44,000 (24%) in the previous year, when 185,000 families were on the programme.

However, a smaller proportion of families with the key measure of one or more adult in continuous employment fell from 21% in 2017 to 15% this year.

The report focuses on performance of the programme against the government’s three “core challenges”: reducing demand on children’s social care, achieving service reform, and promoting social justice.

For children’s social care, the evaluation looked at children on the programme either classified as ‘in need’, on a child protection plan, and those looked after. These were then compared with a group of families with similar characteristics.

When comparing the Troubled Families cohort of children in need just before intervention with the period six to 12 months after intervention, there was a 14% reduction. This compares with a 7% reduction in the comparison group.

However, using the same method, there was an increase of 42% in the proportion of children on the programme who were the subject of a child protection plan, compared to a rise of 24% for the comparison group.

For children on the programme, the proportion looked after at any time during the six to 12 months after intervention increased by 120%, while the proportion for the comparison group rose by 424%.

Despite the rise in the proportion of children on protection plans for those on the programme, the report said: “Put simply, the Troubled Families programme appears to have reduced demand for costly children’s services compared to what would have happened if programme interventions had not taken place.”

Regarding service transformation, the report said almost every council on the programme had completed a “baseline self-assessment” of progress and identified what is required “to increase the scale and quality of whole family working”.

The report added: “The Troubled Families programme supports the government’s wider efforts to promote social justice and has committed to increase the contribution the programme makes to tackling worklessness, whilst reducing parental conflict and problem debt.”

A government review last year concluded the programme’s ‘payment by results’ funding model “on the whole” provides the right incentives for councils.

This followed criticism from the Public Accounts Committee that the funding model incentivised councils to move families through the programme quickly to draw down funding “without providing the support necessary to tackle deep-rooted problems”.

At the time, councils received payments in two parts, including £1,000 upfront for each family and a results-based payment of £800.

This latest report states payments by results will continue but a new funding mechanism of upfront investment called ‘earned autonomy’ will be introduced “to spur faster service transformation and drive high quality support to families both during the lifetime of the programme and beyond”.

This will be piloted in 11 council areas, which have provided “a strong case” based on “ambitious service transformation plans and positive outcomes for families” from next month.

The councils taking part are:

  • Barking and Dagenham LBC
  • Brighton & Hove City Council
  • Bristol City Council
  • Camden LBC
  • Cheshire West and Chester Council
  • Durham CC
  • Islington LBC
  • Kent CC
  • Leeds City Council
  • Liverpool City Council
  • Staffordshire CC

In a foreword to the report, housing and communities secretary Sajid Javid said: “I am looking forward to seeing how the next phase of the programme builds on this work and, particularly, how local authorities take advantage of the programme and make long term changes to the way they deliver services.

“We face a formidable challenge in supporting some of our most vulnerable families to get back on their feet. The Troubled Families programme is helping us meet this and is transforming the lives and prospects of not just this generation, but potentially generations to come.”

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