All of county’s ‘troubled families’ reached by project

Suffolk County Council headquarters, Endeavour House

Suffolk County Council headquarters, Endeavour House - Credit: Archant

A drive to save public money by reducing youth crime and getting unemployed adults on a path back to work has reached 1,150 families with complex needs in Suffolk.

New figures revealed that 100% of families targeted in the county since the launch of the government’s Troubled Families programme have managed to resolve issues around education, employment and crime.

The project has been hailed a success, enabling hard-to-help households make “real and sustainable” changes for themselves and improve their own quality of life.

In 2012, Suffolk was set a three-year target to turn round the lives of 1,150 families with entrenched truancy, anti-social behaviour, crime, substance misuse and long-term unemployment issues.

Under the banner Suffolk Family Focus, its aim was to reduce the high costs placed on the public sector by families with multiple complex needs each year.

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By January this year, more than 800 families were working with a combination of local services to improve their lives.

The latest update of progress on the programme shows that all of the families highlighted in the county by the Department of Communities and Local Government have received support from local authority teams.

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The 100% success rate will contribute toward Prime Minister David Cameron’s goal of helping 120,000 families across England by the end of this parliament.

It has cost an average of £5,493 to support each ‘troubled’ family - deemed to be costing the taxpayer large sums in out-of-work benefits and other expenses. But communities secretary, Eric Pickles, claims that £12,000 has been saved for each family turned around.

According to the government, the programme has already saved taxpayers an estimated £1.2 billion, from a maximum government investment of £448 million.

The coalition scheme was announced in response to the 2011 riots across several London boroughs and in cities and towns around the country.

Around 40% of troubled families live in Ipswich, while around a quarter live in Waveney.

A family is deemed to have been ‘turned around’ when all previously truanting or excluded children have been back in school for a year, when youth crime and antisocial behaviour have been cut across the whole family, or if an adult is no longer claiming benefits and has been in work for at least three months.

Phase two will see the ‘whole family’ approach that has been labelled key to Suffolk’s success used for all families currently assisted by Children and Young Peoples Services.

There is also a drive to work closer with health services as well as agencies already involved, which include district and borough councils, Job Center Plus, adult and community services, youth offending teams, police, schools and voluntary sector organisations.

Gordon Jones, Suffolk County Council’s head of children’s services, said: “The team and the multiagency workers who are working on a daily basis with our identified families have done an excellent job, but there is still a lot of work to be completed, especially as we now move into phase two.

“The result we have achieved to claim for 100% of the families we were tasked to work with in phase one has been challenging and rewarding as families across the county have benefitted.

“Credit must go also to the families who have made these changes. The transformational ‘whole family’ approach used has demonstrated that it is a process that can work with families who are in need of support.

“We are really also grateful for the support and enthusiasm of all our partners and the leadership and support of the health and wellbeing board.”

Suffolk County Council was required to join up local services and dealing with each family’s problems as a whole, rather than responding to each separately.

A single key worker was appointed to get to grips with the family’s problems and work intensively with them to change their lives for the long term.

Suffolk Coastal District Council appointed its own Family Intervention Officer, Claire Hankers, in August last year – a role which has now been extended until 2016.

The officer works with families to identify issues affecting the quality of their lives, to take responsibility for their own progression and development, and to agree the appropriate course of action and support required.

One family to have worked with Suffolk Coastal’s family intervention officer included a single mum and her two teenage children who were dealing with a number of different problems including mental health, housing, debt, chronic health problems, further education issues, drug misuse, unemployment and social isolation.

The mother of the family, who have been supported through their problems, said: “I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support and endless hard work.”

Richard Kerry, head of community health at Suffolk Coastal District Council (SCDC), said: “I’m really pleased that we are continuing to invest in this important role as we have seen the value it’s had on families throughout the district as well as helping the wider community.

“This post is part of the council’s commitment and social responsibility to recognise its social conscience and keeping to the key objectives of the business plan.

“The purpose of the Family Focus role is about helping people, for whatever reasons, are finding it hard to cope with a variety of problems and looking at the family in their entirety to identify all the issues they are being faced with and supporting them to take responsibility to make sustainable changes within their behaviour.”

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