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Government accused of ‘suppressing’ critical Troubled Families report

Government accused of ‘suppressing’ critical Troubled Families report

🕔09.Aug 2016

The Government has been accused of suppressing a critical report said to expose the failings of a nationwide scheme to “turn around the lives” of more than 500,000 troubled families.

A Whitehall analysis found that the Troubled Families programme had “no discernible” effect on unemployment, truancy or criminality”, according to BBC Newsnight.

The scheme was part of former Prime Minister David Cameron’s response to the 2011 riots and is set to cost £1.3 billion in payments to councils that meet targets to assist families hit by high unemployment, truancy and anti-social behaviour.

Families in the programme receive a designated social worker to co-ordinate how public services can help them with entrenched problems.

Local authorities receive £3,200 for every family identified and a further £800 if they are deemed “turned around”, which requires some improvement on truancy or criminality.

Data already published suggested that 98.9 per cent of families participating in the first wave of the scheme had been “turned around”, a figure that led Ministers to praise the performance of councils.

A second wave of the Troubled Families programme was announced in June 2013, and began to roll out in April 2015 covering 400,000 families at a cost of £900 million, on top of 118,000 families in the initial scheme.

The aim, according to Mr Cameron, was to save money and prevent further public disorder by assisting “neighbours from hell” to become good citizens.

In June last year Mr Cameron described the scheme as a “real government success”.

“Almost all of the 117,000 families which the programme started working with have now been turned around – in terms of either school attendance or getting a job or both,” he said.

Birmingham city council is participating in the Troubled Families initiative and a similar scheme is expected to be rolled out by the West Midlands Combined Authority.

Successful outcomes in helping troubled families are seen as essential if the council is to rein back long term social services spending and live within reduced budgets.

A report published by the council in May 2015 confirmed that 4,180 families would be helped in the first phase followed by a further 14,170 families in an expanded scheme to run from 2015 to 2020.

The council says it is committed to work with the families of greatest concern and to:

  • Achieve significant and sustained progress with 14,170 families over the 5 year period from 2015-16 to 2020-21.
  • Engage and work with 2,409 (17%) of those families in the first year (2015-16).
  • Integrate and transform services.
  • Evidence the programme through significant and sustained outcomes and transformational change.

The council report adds:

These are families where often children have disproportionately poor outcomes and fail to reach their full potential. For a significant proportion of these families impaired parenting often prejudices outcomes for the whole family as a result of poor adult mental health and substance misuse, adult criminality, poor housing, low levels of aspirations, domestic violence and poverty.

The effectiveness of the national policy is being measured by a consortium of analysts led by a consultancy called Ecorys and the evaluation was expected to be published, but the document is yet to be released.

According to the BBC, which claims to have seen a copy of the document, official analysis of data from 56 local authorities covering the first 18 months of the programme states:

The lack of obvious effect from the programme across a range of outcomes indicates that the programme did not have a measurable impact on families within the time-frame over which it was possible to observe its effects.

The analysis also found it “did not have any discernible impact on adult offending” seven to 18 months after the family was booked into the programme. They added:

Whilst it was more difficult to match the treatment and comparison groups when looking at child outcomes, the findings suggested that the programme also had no detectable impact on child offending.

Their analysis of truancy got different results depending on how the data was analysed, leading analysts to conclude that “any impact that the programme had on the absence rate was not robust”.

Speaking in June 2015, Dame Louise Casey, until recently the civil servant in charge of the scheme, said:

It’s fantastic news that the programme has now turned around the lives of so many troubled families. That’s almost 117,000 families where kids are back in school and youth crime and anti-social behaviour has been cut, and in more and more of these homes an adult has now moved off benefits and into work.

The government denies that the report has been suppressed.

A spokesperson told the BBC:

There were several strands to the evaluation work commissioned by the last government and there is not yet a final report.

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