Having followed The Guardian coverage of the Troubled Families programme over the last year or so, I feel a strong need to air my frustration and flesh out the growing incredulity in policy circles from a front line perspective.
Observations are based on my own experiences as a social care worker and those of professionals employed in a variety of disciplines at a local level with whom I am acquainted.
The Troubled Families programme attempts to directly intervene in the lives of the most ‘troubled families’ in England. These families are classified as such if they meet two out of six effective measures of disadvantage.
These criteria range from families struck by domestic abuse, to those who, quite vaguely, ‘have children who need help’. The programme then sends a team to each of these households who attempt to discourage the causes of ‘bad behaviour’, worklessness and laziness.
My observations on the delivery of the programme so far are as follows:
- There is no qualitative evidence that the Troubled Families programme is actually responsible for ‘turning around’ the families it comes into contact with. It is claimed that many of the positive outcomes are a result of pre-existing Multi-Agency Partnerships.
- This is made all the more troubling because many families are assessed based on information which is between one to four years old. Most have therefore resolved their issues with the help of other organisations or through their own accord. In this case, those involved in the Troubled Families management simply ‘map’ this progress, despite the fact that these outcomes cannot be attributed to the work done by the programme itself.
- Much of the basis for the 'independent evaluation’ of the Troubled Families programme is on cases which are deemed to be high risk. This means they will be dealt with by a ‘flagship’ Troubled Families team, which has a smaller case load and subsequently is able to meet with the family a number of times a week. This practice is therefore financially unsustainable if applied to the programme at large, and yet it is used as the basis for evaluation of the entire programme.
- The programme is also used as a means to bridge the hole created by cuts in local government funding. Refusal to engage in this programme is therefore not accepted by Troubled Families process managers, who encourage staff to use ‘creative’ tactics to make up the numbers. This has led to disadvantaged families being coerced into joining the programme through intimidating and potentially harmful ‘hard sells’.
- The Troubled Families programme has used established referral processes in order to continue the expansion of the policy. This means that staff may have cases suddenly re-classified as a Troubled Families case, or be forced to nominate cases against their better judgement and ethics.
The management of the Troubled Families programme is, therefore, questionable, and its continuation is best explained by the revenue stream it provides for local government funding, rather than its actual results.
The Troubled Families programme has not resulted in innovation in practice while working with the wider family. The claimed successes of this programme are due to the lower caseloads, and any good practice to come from this had already existed independent of the Troubled Families programme.
The pressure that local government cuts have applied to social services have, in fact, caused staff to act against their ethical and professional values. It is most distressing to consider that a programme which aims to help families with multiple disadvantages is actually subjecting them to coercion and harassment. The public has also been misled by suggestions that this programme is astoundingly successful and worth the large investments it has received when in fact it is a waste of public funds.
Also see: The Troubled Families Programme: the perfect social policy? by Stephen Crossley