Council ahead of schedule in getting troubled families back on track

Published: 27 November 2013

The council’s work in helping troubled families turn their lives around and become better citizens is among the best in the country, according to the latest Government figures.

New data released by the Department for Communities and Local Government to mark the halfway point in its three year troubled families programme shows that Wandsworth’s family recovery project (FRP) team is well ahead of schedule in supporting local families who need assistance.

The council’s team has already begun work with 90 per cent of those families living in the borough who have been identified as needing help. In total the council has engaged with 595 out of a total of 660 local families. This is the highest number in the country.

So far 206 families who have completed the programme have successfully turned their lives around and been brought back on track. This means that their children are now attending school regularly, they are having little or no involvement with the police and the criminal justice system, and their health and welfare has been significantly improved.

Of all the families who have completed the Wandsworth programme, just under 68 per cent have had their lives successfully turned around within one year. This is the highest ranked score in London.

Troubled families are defined as those whose lives may be affected by any number of social problems including drink and/or drug addiction, domestic violence, educational underachievement, worklessness, poverty, child neglect, truancy, persistent criminality and anti-social behaviour.

Each individual family whose lives are successfully turned around represents a potential saving to taxpayers of around £29,000 a year.

This saving to the public purse comes from reductions in crime and anti-social behaviour, a fall in the number of children that need to be taken into care, fewer visits to A&E,  fewer interventions from the police and the courts and by getting adults off benefits and back into work. 

The work carried out in Wandsworth was highlighted in Monday night’s Channel 4 News which broadcast an interview with a woman - described as “no stranger to social services” - whose life had been transformed following the FRP team’s intervention.

She told the programme that after receiving targeted support from the FRP: “I said to myself, you know what I don’t want to be this person, That person is basically a distant, distant memory. To me it’s like a TV character that’s been discontinued.”

According to Channel 4 News: “Eventually over the course of a year she modified her behaviour and she introduced structure and discipline into family life. Her son once told her the change was so great he thought his mum had been abducted by aliens.”

Her neighbours are no longer complaining about anti-social behaviour, her children have a 100 per cent attendance record at school, their welfare is no longer causing concern and living conditions in their home have improved dramatically.

The Wandsworth programme works by assigning a dedicated worker to engage with a whole family on all of its problems, such as ensuring that the children attend school, appointments are met and appropriate services are accessed. Crucially, all of the public services involved with members of a family are coordinated and the demand on them reduced.

This allows different agencies to work together in a much more co-ordinated way to tackle the root cause of problems rather than just the symptoms.

Wandsworth Council leader Ravi Govindia, who was recently interviewed by Inside Housing magazine about the work of the FRP, said: “Working with families in these difficult situations and helping them change their behaviour and improve not only their lives and the lives of their children, but also those of their neighbours and the wider community is a key priority for the council.

“Our work to break the inter-generational cycle of drink and drug abuse, criminality, anti-social behaviour and benefit dependency is designed to transform lives and prevent serious social problems becoming too embedded.”

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said: “Councils are making great strides in a very short space of time, dealing with families that have often had problems and created serious issues in their communities for generations.

"These results show that these problems can be dealt with through a no-nonsense and common sense approach, bringing down costs to the taxpayer at the same time."

And the head of the Government’s troubled families programme Louise Casey said: "This programme is getting to grips with families who for too long have been allowed to be caught up in a cycle of despair. These results show that a tough, intensive but supportive approach has a big impact; giving hope and opportunity to the families and respite to the communities around them."

Cllr Govindia