Troubled Families, Design & Technology


Despite a good deal of healthy debate about the government’s Troubled Families initiative, councils are now busy identifying families, recruiting new staff and beginning to think about their longer term strategies. Many newly appointed local co-ordinators will be looking for ways to instigate whole system change because they see there is real potential to achieve a lot in the three years of the programme. Some of the reasons for optimism include:

  • upfront money, which is paid according to the number of families attaching to the programme
  • the policy focus on dealing with the whole family rather than single issues
  • strong partnership forming between children’s services, adult services and community safety within councils and with partners
  • emphasis in the intervention approach on providing practical support to families, including training and employment

The whole scheme is based on the success of the Family Intervention model (intensive, dedicated support to improve family functioning) which was rolled out in 2006/7 to tackle anti-social behaviour (NATCEN research here) and critiqued here.

Right now, Family Intervention team capacity is being expanded in local authority areas and the Troubled Families Unit have indicated that the group of eligible families with lower level needs will be led by professionals outside of the intensive teams. And beyond the “troubled families” we know there will be a significant number of other families who may be at risk without good quality, persistent early help. This larger group could be around 4% of families in an area (1,000s often).

Troubled Families projects will need to find ways to help professionals in a range of services think about the whole family (or group of people in a household) and support more than just the “presenting” client, but address family functioning, relationships and the context people are in. This is likely to be a shared endeavour, requiring very closely connected teams of professionals around families over a long period of time, and hopefully look carefully about the possiblities beyond services, such as peer support, community support and so on.

Whilst multi-disciplinary “patch” teams might appear to be the answer, we can’t really expect organisations to have the appetite or money to release the amount of staff needed into new teams, with all the practical difficulties and costs associated with accommodation, ICT etc. Major re-structures are no longer sensible or viable.

If we are to have strong, effective teams around families, able to maintain long-term support to the numbers indicated, we have to look at secure web collaboration in my view. A design process is needed that places an absolute focus on the need for families to be fully involved, and practical day-to-day help for front line professionals. An approach that promotes simplicity and minimalism over complexity and exhaustive (and exhausting) functionality.

I rather like this quote:

“The aggregate size of networked resources is much greater than the centralised resources of yesterday” (from Why collaboration is the new oil & gas).

I think Patchwork, being launched tomorrow, shows how design and technology can be used to build useful tools fit for the “networked” future, pushing significant service and culture change in the process. The new generation of tools will help people do their work, not hinder it; and help inform and empower families.

If any Troubled Families teams would like to talk to me about collaborating on this, please do get in touch paul.brewer@brighton-hove.gov.uk

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