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Family Intervention Projects have developed out of the Government’s anti-social behaviour strategy which has focused on tackling anti-social behaviour such as neighbour nuisance. They have drawn on the pioneering work of the Dundee Families Project established by NCH in 1995.
In the past year the Government has worked with local authorities to establish over 50 family intervention projects across the country. Over time these projects will be able to assist around 1,500 families a year.
These are families that in the past agencies may have written off as ‘lost causes’ – but now will be offered the right help and incentive to become decent members of their community and give their children the opportunity to grow up with a chance in life.
What is the problem?
In some communities there are a small number of highly problematic families that account for a disproportionate amount of anti-social behaviour. They are well known to many service providers and enforcement agencies. Some families have up to twenty different organisations involved with them.
The effect of their behaviour on communities cannot be under-estimated. Those living around these families often move home themselves if they can, many end up keeping their children indoors and changing their daily routines. Their behaviour corrodes community spirit and reduces a community’s capacity to deal with problems. These families can also have problems themselves – physical and mental health problems, domestic violence, substance misuse, poor basic and life skills. Children often have behavioural problems and are not regular school attendees.
However, services struggle to resolve these cases. Lots of different agencies are usually involved with different family members (such as children’s services, education welfare, voluntary organisations, housing departments as well as the police and criminal justice agencies). While families need help and support, they may not want to engage, or reject the help, or are offered it as an option to take up if they choose. Enforcement action has been sometimes been threatened but is not followed through.
So despite months and years of intervention from agencies, they continue to damage themselves, their children and the community around them. Tackling problems in a way that meets both the needs of communities and of the families themselves is critical to resolving problems but these needs have sometimes been seen as mutually exclusive.
Family intervention projects, through intensive support and enforcement action, can improve the quality of life for the wider community as well as the families themselves. The solution lies in confronting and changing the behaviour so that it is dealt with and not displaced.
What are family intervention projects?
Family intervention projects work to turn around the behaviour of families and reduce their impact on their community. In so doing, they also bring stability to families’ lives, prevent homelessness and improve opportunities for children. They combine intensive support with focused challenge – a twin track approach. For these projects, it is not a question of either/or - support and enforcement are systematically linked to provide families with the incentive to change.
While projects vary in the services they provide, they share key features which distinguish the family intervention project model.
The key worker is central to the projects. Their role is to manage or ‘grip’ the family’s problems, co-ordinate the delivery of services and using a combination of support and sanction to motivate the family to change their behaviour. Persistence and assertiveness with families is critical to keeping them engaged and following agreed steps.
If families start to disengage, services are stepped up and the key worker redoubles his/her efforts where mainstream services often withdraw. This comes as a shock to families who are often used to services pulling away and sends out a powerful signal to families that the service is not an optional extra.
A contract (also known as a behaviour support agreement) is drawn up between the family and key worker which sets out the changes that are expected, the support that will be provided in order to facilitate that change and the consequences if changes are not made, or tasks are not undertaken.
The use of sanctions is an important lever for motivating families to change. Demoting tenancies or gaining possession orders suspended on the basis of compliance with the projects or, for some, the very real prospect of children being taken into care, can provide the wake up call to take the help on offer. Too often these families have been told that action will be taken but is then not followed through, creating a sense among family members that they are untouchable.
These are intensely practical projects which focus on providing a structure for those living in chaotic circumstances – teaching parents basics such as how to get children up and fed in the morning, clearing up, preparing meals and bed time routines. Families are often learning these for the first time. Families report that their day to day skills such as cooking, hygiene and daily routines had often been taken for granted by other agencies.
Projects take a whole family approach which recognise the inter- connectedness between children’s and adults problems There are obvious links between a child’s behaviour in school and their relationships at home; links between a parent’s ability to get children to school and parent’s alcohol misuse; between offending by the father and a child getting drawn in to bad behaviour in the community.
Improving parenting skills is always a critical service. One in five children in existing projects are on the child protection register and over 80% of children are seen as being ‘in need’. There is strong evidence that parenting programmes can improve parenting skills and have lasting effects in reducing bad behaviour, even in cases where parents are initially reluctant to accept help.
There are three distinct levels of interventions which are used according to a family’s needs and the impact their behaviour is having on the community. Different levels of intervention may be used at different times as circumstances and behaviour change.
Most projects provide an outreach service for families who are responsible for anti-social behaviour in their home, and who are risk of being evicted. However, services can also be provided in units managed by the family intervention project but dispersed in the community.
At the most intensive level, families who require supervision and support on a 24 hour basis stay in a core residential unit. Upon satisfactory completion of a programme, the family can move into a managed property.
Do they work?
These schemes have impressive results – for more than four out of five (85%) families, complaints about anti-social behaviour ceased or reduced and in nine out of ten (92%), the risk to local communities was assessed as having either reduced or ceased completely by the time families left the project. In addition, for four out of five families, there was no further possession action taken against their homes and significant improvements in schools attendance were found.*
How much does it cost?
Because family intervention projects differ in the services they provide, so do the costs. The average costs range from around £8,000 per family for schemes which provide outreach services for families in their homes or living in managed properties, to around £15,000 for schemes which include the more intensive services (in a core residential unit). Government is contributing around £5,000 per family of this through funding . Other costs are met from the local authority through mainstream funding such as supporting people and neighbourhood renewal funds.
It has been estimated that the costs to society of a family with severe problems could be £250,000 - £350,000 in a single year without this intervention*.
Action across Government to support the family intervention projects
This approach brings together a number of key policies from across Government departments, including the strategy to tackle anti-social behaviour, Every Child Matters, reducing homelessness, Supporting People as well as the Government targets to reduce child poverty.
- Government is investing around £15m over two years (April 2007-2009) to support their development with an additional £3m from the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) for training in parenting programmes.
- Employment related services: Jobcentre Plus is providing a Nominated Officer to work closely with the Family Intervention Project in their area to help find work and training opportunities.
- Health Services: Local health services are providing a Nominated Health Professional to help to access health services, signposting; troubleshooting and working with health organisations.
- Parenting: DfES are funding training for all of the family intervention key workers in independently validated parenting programmes. This will ensure that key workers can help parents be better equipped to manage relationships and their children’s behaviour.
- Housing related support: Communities and Local Government have committed £1.2m to help the development of the family intervention projects, through the Supporting People budget.
- An evaluation of projects was completed in July 2008 (download below).
What happens next?
A quality assurance framework is also being developed to ensure that schemes operate according to the family intervention project model so that projects deliver results for families and for local communities.
* Nixon, J., Hunter, C., and Parr, S. (2006) ‘Anti-social Behaviour Intensive Family Support Projects: An evaluation of six pioneering projects’. Department for Communities and Local Government.
ARTICLE LAST UPDATED: 06/01/2010