Waltham Forest is an ethnically diverse authority characterised by high levels of long-term and inter-generational unemployment, relatively low employment rates and low average levels of incomes – the lowest in London. To address these issues Waltham Forest has been trialling an initiative that supports families at risk of negative poverty-related outcomes, focusing on early intervention and intensive support.
A multi-agency project team, consisting of family support advisors, a housing officer and housing benefit officers, has been set up to take the project forward. Central to the initiative has been adopting the family partnership model (FPM). This model is used to help families effectively explore their problems and promote relationship building. A key principle of the model is that it requires the professional to move away from the 'expert model' whereby a worker knows best and tells the family what they need to do. Instead, the professional is there to ascertain what the issues are for the family and to help facilitate change. As this puts the family at the centre, Waltham Forest decided to bring the service to them instead of asking the family to come to council buildings to meet professionals.
This case study focuses on the work conducted to improve families' housing conditions, and by doing so helping families engage with a wider range of services, including training and employment support.
Improving housing conditions was seen as a key barrier to families lifting themselves out of poverty. However, the lack of available social housing in Waltham Forest and the higher cost of renting privately mean that it is often not possible to find suitable housing for low-income families. Currently, 1059 families in the borough live in temporary accommodation with the waiting list for social housing at a minimum of five years.
The term ‘temporary accommodation’ is often not very accurate or helpful as it leads to families not settling into their homes because they are expecting to move imminently. This has, in some cases, negatively affected the extent to which families have engaged in their local communities and the extent to which they are aware of and interested in the support and services available locally. For example several families travel across or out of the borough to take a child to school or to access their GP.
Delayed responses from the council’s housing department in dealing with repair issues, such as damp, left families so frustrated that they no longer wanted to stay in the property. The pressure on housing services to deal with repair issues is huge and there are limited resources to meet these requests. The prioritising system – used to deal with the most urgent requests first – means that not all repair issues are dealt with in a timely fashion.
The housing advisor in the project used the family partnership model to explore a family’s housing needs in order to gain a greater understanding of the impact that the current housing situation had on their lives. It emerged that although rehousing was often flagged up as a priority issue, there were often other problems that, if addressed, could help improve a family’s circumstances and move them a step closer to lifting themselves out of poverty. Examples encountered included parents with low self-esteem and confidence who were unable to solve minor housing issues to improve their lives. Sometimes serious issues involving domestic violence were identified.
The role of the housing advisors included helping families by
FPM has been fundamental in developing effective relationships with the families that the project aims to support. Every family receiving support from the model is taken through a process that explores the following stages:
The model has not only led to success in terms of individuals no longer wanting to move and feeling happy to remain in their homes, but also in getting people rehoused (which was never an intended key outcome). This has led to them being able to focus on other issues and accessing services such as training and employment support.
Working in partnership with the family in their home has been key to the success of the project. Seeing families in their properties enables a more accurate, professional assessment of the issues. This helps determine whether a family meets the threshold to be rehoused and to flag this up with the housing department.
Examples of how families have been helped include
Addressing a family’s physical environment creates opportunities to focus on other issues that would otherwise not be considered a priority by the parent. For example, one parent is now actively looking for work with the support of Worknet, now that she has accepted that she will be in her property for the foreseeable future. Another parent is engaging in parenting training now that the repairs in her home have been successfully carried out, when initially she did not want to engage in any other kind of support. Giving people honest and accurate information on what is available to them and dedicating the time to make sure they fully understand, creates an opportunity to address other issues they would not otherwise have been able to focus on.
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