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Tendring: Pioneering scheme to help families in need receives national praise and saves millions of pounds

PUBLISHED: 10:23 03 March 2014 | UPDATED: 13:05 03 March 2014

Lynda McWilliams, councillor at Tendring District Council

Lynda McWilliams, councillor at Tendring District Council

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A pioneering scheme working with families with complex needs in north Essex is in the national spotlight after transforming dozens of troubled lives and saving millions of pounds.

Tendring District Council’s (TDC) EssexFamily pilot saw innovative changes to the way services are delivered to improve families’ lives and reduce the burden they place on public spending. After the year-long pilot demonstrated “extremely positive” outcomes at a fraction of the previous costs, the council was invited to present its findings to a Parliamentary Select Committee.

It is now viewed as an exemplar of good practice in working with troubled families. Lynda McWilliams, who is responsible for well-being and partnerships at the council, said she was “thrilled” by the project’s success.

She added she hoped it could be developed across the country to help even more families.

“It’s proved its success with its excellent outcomes and the happy families that have come through the process, which is what it’s all about,” she said.

“Many of the families were absolutely thrilled by the possibilities to improve their lives and so grateful for the support. It’s been extremely positive throughout.”

The pilot saw 17 families work with the charity Barnado’s for a year, ending in September 2013, using funding allocated to TDC from Essex County Council and the former primary care trust.

Through the involvement of a dedicated support worker, acting “pro-actively rather than reactively” to assist with the families’ various needs, the project has delivered proven savings in social care, policing and health costs.

Families previously calculated to have cost more than £140,000 over the 11 months before the new approach, necessitated only £16,200 in spending during the six months under the pilot.

Extrapolated over the district’s 320 complex-need families, each estimated to cost an average of £139,000 per year, the total savings for the taxpayer could comfortably reach tens of millions of pounds.

Mrs McWilliams believes the success of the scheme comes from its the appointment of a single dedicated worker, linking together the key service providers, which she said were previously working more in isolation.

“It makes so much sense to have one person co-ordinating it all, which is why we’ve decided to reappoint the family worker post from October this year,” she said.

A review of the pilot reported to TDC’s cabinet members also highlights the savings achieved through the creation of more stable families by shifting from the “largely sustainable” reactive approach to a more proactive methodology.

“The EssexFamily pilot has shown that proactive costs fall considerable as stability returns,” the report states.

Mrs McWilliams said she now hopes that TDC’s innovative approach will help other councils to improve family outcomes and save money.

“If other districts see how well this has worked hopefully it will take off and help a lot more people,” she said.

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