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Troubled family scheme not working
8:00am Wednesday 18th September 2013 in News
IT was launched by David Cameron in 2011, hailed as a solution to stop troubled families ruining communities and had millions of pounds thrown at it.
But the Government’s turning around troubled families project, launched after the London riots, has some dubious figures so far, leading many to question if it has been nothing more than a big waste of money.
After 15 months, Southend Council has only managed to turn around the lives of seven of the 420 families identified as needing help.
And Essex County Council is failing to hit its target of turning around the lives of 2,200 families.
A £448million pot of cash was made available to councils that agreed to start work to help 118,000 families nationally by 2015.
Families were classed as troubled if they had a child who had committed an offence, been the subject of an antisocial behaviour order, had a history of truancy or had been excluded from school and had at least one adult on benefits, such as jobseeker’s allowance.
Success is measured by a drop in offending rates, antisocial behaviour incidents and truancy.
Southend Council’s pledge to turn around 420 local families by 2015 was backed with £1.4million of Government cash.
With just over a year to go, community workers have approached 140 of the families, each of which is estimated to drain £75,000 of public services, and turned around just seven, by keeping the children in school and cutting antisocial behaviour across the family.
None of the parents is back in work.
Of the national target of 120,000 families being turned around by 2015, the scheme has only helped 14,000 so far.
Only three of 15 local authorities around the country with a similar population and economy to Southend, such as York, Darlington and Plymouth, have helped fewer families.
Some councils already had similar projects or teams in place when Prime Minister David Cameron launched the national scheme.
Simon Leftley, Southend Council’s director of people, said: “We are completely in line with Government targets for the number of families we have identified to become part of the troubled families programme.
“This is a long-term project, where success can only be achieved and measured correctly after we have worked with the families over a considerable length of time.
“We are optimistic that, by the end of the three years, we will have successfully turned around the families we have engaged with, but we are not prepared to claim this success until we are sure that the positive results are lasting.
“For instance, we cannot claim that children have resolved school attendance issues until we have seen evidence that they have had good attendance over a year.
“Therefore, it would take at least a year from the time we started working with the families until we can truthfully record this change.”
Essex County Council was given a target of helping 2,200 families by 2015 by Whitehall, and the Government’s own figures showed that in April, no families had been successfully turned around.
The authority told the Echo at the time that the figures were outdated, officers were on track with their scheme and they expected more than 200 families would be turned around by the summer.
The latest Government report shows 185 families have been put on the right track.
The council has identified 1,140 problem families and is working with more than 500 of them.
In Thurrock, 30 families out of a Government target of 360 have been put on the right track so far.
In the whole of Essex, including the two unitary authorities, troubled families are estimated to cost the taxpayer £198million a year.
Opposition councillors have called on Southend Council to speed up its work.
Lib Dem leader Graham Longley said: “It’s disappointing they haven’t identified as many families as they said they would and it’s concerning they haven’t been able to achieve a better turn around than they have.
“The coalition Government has made a big effort to overcome some of the problems and we really must ask why Southend has not been a success.”
Martin Terry, spokesman for the Independent group, said: “It’s very disappointing. We clearly need to think about this a bit more and try to become better.”
Labour leader Ian Gilbert said: “On the face of it, these figures seem very poor. However, this is a very difficult area and we need to probe what lies behind the statistics, to find out just why fewer families have been helped in Southend than elsewhere.
“When money is so scarce, we need to make sure every penny of funding is well spent and makes an impact.”
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