There is currently much quibbling about the title that central government has given to Louise Casey’s remit to work with families who cause difficulties for themselves, their children and the wider community. In the past this group have been referred to as “Challenging Families”, “Chaotic Families”, “Anti-social Families” and also included in the wider “Hard to Reach” group . The title “Troubled Famlies” is jarring with some Social Care professionals.
The resistance to the word “Troubled” from some quarters is that there is a real danger that those families who are struggling with poverty and poor life choices will be be swept up in this category and I share that concern.
If, however, we were all, including the government, a little bit more confident in talking specifically about the actual groups we all know the government is referring to – we might have a better chance of addressing the issue. Those families, for instance, who have no connection with the community, stay under the radar of statutory services and statutory help (i.e. Childrens Centres, Playgroups, Community Nurse etc) and who play by different rules, for whatever reason, and who make others fearful.
I work with families who “duck and dive” to do the best they can – live purposefully on Benefits and do small jobs an hour or so a week to buy something extra for their children that Benefits alone could not possible allow. These families may live in poor conditions, may be loud and aggressive in their displeasure at their place in the world and may place more importance on whether their child holds his own in the playground than whether he can in the classroom but these may be Low Aspiration Families – they are not Troubled Families.
I work with families who play little part in providing their child with skills and guidance for the future, or place any value on education, who even mock a child who would rather read than play yet another Xbox game. With absolutely no understanding of the crucial role they could play in guiding and educating their children (the phrase they use most on this issue is “it’s what schools are for”). In these circumstances, Teachers than inspire and motivate and, with the right influences, children can overcome a lacklustre upbringing and make their own way. However, these are Ineffective Families, they are not Troubled Families.
I also have great experience in working with families and groups who proactively hold a “Fxxx you” attitude to all established frameworks e.g. social workers, teachers, police and indeed neighbours. Am I fearful of using the word “Troubled Family” with this group? Nooo, it is exactly what they are….troubled and challenging for a multitude of reasons. If they were merely “Troubled Individuals” rather than “Troubled Families” – the response would be different, would it not? My liberal leanings would lean towards a much more stringent requirement in “getting them to conform for the safety and security of all”. The title we give this group is getting more publicity than the scheme itself, but its the Service, the help, the proactive approach we take to work with them that is important.
I happen to believe that some Intensive Family Support programmes are a costly and short-term intervention. Reinforcing “helplessness and hopelessness” does not lead to “graduation and independence”. However, a real framework with a radical approach of “this is our statutory role: to ensure that children are protected from grooming for crime, violence and extremism in any form and to do this, children need x,y and z. We can help you to achieve this. If however, you choose not to take this help, then as part of a wider Child Protection role we will intervene and provide this for the child as part of the child’s legal right to a childhood and our duty of care to provide one” might be more effective in bringing about change for the children living in these families. Local Government is “loco parentis” when a parent does not provide crucial elements of childrearing – perhaps Central Government could be more vocal in declaring a universal statement of what will not be accepted without statutory intervention.
This way, the £4,000 per family that has been allocated for “interventions” with Troubled Families would not be diluted further on Ineffective and Low Aspiration Famlies. If, however, central government were to increase the allocated sum by just a little, perhaps all three groups could receive an intervention before the children of the Ineffective & Low Aspiration Families become the Troubled Families of tomorrow.