The trouble with the Troubled Families Programme – repeating the failed attempts of the past

Following the BBC Newsnight report last week into the ‘suppressed’ evaluation of the Troubled Families Programme, I, along with Michall Lambert, have contributed a blog post for the LSE Politics and Policy blog examining the history of evaluations of similar family intervention style projects.

The blog can be found here

Cheers,

Steve

The Troubled Families Programme: in, for and against the state?

I’ve had a chapter published in the latest Social Policy Review, the annual publication of the Social Policy Association.

The Troubled Families Programme: in, for and against the state?

Abstract

The Troubled Families Programme (TFP), established by the Coalition Government in the aftermath of the 2011 riots, set out to ‘turn around’ the lives of the 120,000 most ‘troubled families’ in England. When the rhetoric surrounding ‘troubled families’ is closely examined, a number of competing, and often contradictory, messages begin to emerge. This chapter examines the ways in which the Troubled Families Programme is positioned firstly by central government and secondly by local authorities and practitioners. Adopting a ‘street-level lens’ (Brodkin 2011a), interviews with managers and workers in one local authority area are analysed to examine ‘the complexity of interactions concealed beneath the apparent monotony of bureaucratic routine’ (Bourdieu, 2005: 140). The chapter concludes with reflections on the Janus-faced nature of the Troubled Families Programme and a discussion of its role in the crafting of a new ‘smart’ state.

I’ve uploaded a pre-review section of the chapter to my Academia profile here and you should also be able to see a pdf of it by clicking the link below.

In for and against the state pre-review

Steve

Seminar on the ‘Implications of the Welfare Reform and Work Act’

If you’re in the North East and at a loose end on the afternoon of Friday 10th June, the information below, about a seminar on the Welfare Reform and Work Act, might be of interest to you….

A flyer for the even can be found here

Implications of the Welfare Reform and Work Act for low income children and families in the North East

A joint seminar organised by the Institute for Local Governance (ILG) and North East Child Poverty Commission (NECPC)

10th June 2016,

1-3.45pm

Lindisfarne Centre,

Durham University

The government’s Welfare Reform and Work Act achieved Royal Assent in March 2016 and has now passed into law. It holds significant implications for how child poverty is defined, measured and addressed in the UK. The Act marks a policy movement away from income-based measures of poverty and the removal of statutory obligations on local authorities to reduce child poverty. Instead, it emphasises tackling worklessness, improving educational attainment and supporting ‘Troubled’ families as the most effective ways to increase the life chances of children living in poverty.

This seminar will explore the potential implications of the Act for the life chances of children living in low income families in the North East, focusing on three key aspects of the Act: the changing definition and measurement of child poverty; extension of the Troubled Families programme (and its effectiveness); and the impact of welfare reform on low income families.

Draft programme

Registration from 12.45pm 1-1.10pm

Chair’s welcome (Phillip Edwards, Institute for Local Governance)

1.10-1.30pm Introduction to the Welfare Reform and Work Act (Dr Deborah Harrison, NECPC)

1.30-2pm Changing definitions and measurement of child poverty (Bishop Paul Butler)

2-2.30pm The ‘Troubled Families’ programme (Stephen Crossley, Durham University)

2.30-2.45pm Coffee break

2.45-3.15pm Welfare reform, foodbank use and low income families in Stockton-on-Tees (Dr Kayleigh Garthwaite, Durham University)

3.15-3.40pm Panel discussion

3.40-3.45pm Closing remarks(Phillip Edwards)

This seminar is intended to be of interest to a wide audience including researchers and academics, Local Authorities and other public sector agencies, housing providers, third sector organisations, schools and children’s services. This event is free but places are limited and tend to book up quickly.

To register, please email janet.atkinson@durham.ac.uk. If you would like to find out more about the North East Child Poverty Commission, you can visit our website: http://www.nechildpoverty.org.uk or contact the Coordinator deborah.harrison@durham.ac.uk .

Fast policy, slow evaluation…

… be in no doubt – we are in a hurry, we mean to deliver. You don’t need to talk about it or show empathy. I want you to get on with it. And I know local government can get results. But understand – this isn’t either or. We are going to deliver on this. So get moving. 

Eric Pickles, 17 October, 2011

I’ve written before (and here) on how the Troubled Families Programme (TFP) can be understood as a good example of the phenomenon that Peck & Tickell call ‘fast policy’ whereby an off-the-shelf policy fix (‘family intervention’ in this case) can be quickly dusted off, thereby shortening any pilot or implementation stages, and smoothing the way for rapid expansion.

One area where DCLG appear to be taking their time, however, is with the official evaluation of the first phase of the programme. This, of course, is no bad thing and I don’t want to suggest that these things should be rushed. But given the speed at which the TFP was established and then expanded, the length of time it is taking to publish results from the evaluation appears at odds with the prorgamme’s overall approach to ‘getting on with it’.

In October last year, I wrote to the DCLG asking them if they could provide me with the titles of any reports they had received as part of the official evaluation and the dates they had received them. They initially refused to provide me with this info, but, following a review, I was provided with the following dates and titles of reports that had been received from Ecorys, the lead partner in the evaluation consortium:

  • National Evaluation of the Troubled Families Programme: Final Synthesis report [DRAFT] – 18 September 2015
  • National Evaluation of the Troubled Families Programme: – Technical report: impact evaluation using survey data [DRAFT] – 15 October 2015
  • National Evaluation of the Troubled Families Programme: – Findings from the Analysis of National Administrative Data [DRAFT] – 28 August 2015
  • National Evaluation of the Troubled Families Programme: Report on the Process evaluation [DRAFT] – 1 September 2015
  • National Evaluation of the Troubled Families Programme: Family experiences report [DRAFT] – 7 October 2015
  • National Evaluation of the Troubled Families Programme: Survey Technical report [DRAFT] – 9 October 2015
  • National Evaluation of the Troubled Families Programme: Family Monitoring Data final report [DRAFT] – 9 October 2015

The original response to my initial request did state that:

The department will be aiming to publish the evaluation within 12 weeks of final sign-off in accordance with Government Statistical Research guidelines, and current expectations are that we will achieve sign-off of the evaluation materials by the end of this calendar year.

According to the government’s own expectations, then, the evaluation should have been published by now (twelve weeks from the start of the New Year would have been around the 21 March). The final synthesis report has been with the DCLG for nearly seven months now and still we don’t know what the official evaluation has to say about the programme. The initial response also stated that the evaluation would be published once ‘the necessary quality assurance processes’ had been completed, which, again, is entirely understandable.

However, the delay does raise some interesting questions. I wonder, for example, if the evaluation was positive and produced some robust justification for the programme, would there have been such a delay in publishing it? Given that the ‘quality assurance processes’ are taking such a long time, does this indicate a problem or problems with the data collected during the evaluation? And given that nearly seven months (and counting) has passed between submission of the final report and its publication, how different will the published version be to the initial draft, after seven months of revising and redrafting?

If anyone has any answers to these questions, please do let me know.

 

Little heresies in public policy: ‘Troubled families’ or troubling policy?

I have been invited to do a talk on the Troubled Families Programme as part of the ‘Little Heresies in Public Policy’ seminar series, organised by Newcastle University Business School. The seminar series takes aim at some of the most taken-for-granted aspects of current public policies, such as payment-by-results funding mechanisms, the personalisation agenda, and attempts to measure well-being.

The title of the talk is ”Troubled Families’ or troubling policy?’, it’s on 7 April and it kicks off at 6:00pm. The blurb for the talk is below and more detail, including how to register (it’s free), can be found here

The Troubled Families Programme, launched in the aftermath of the 2011 riots, reputedly works with some of England’s most troublesome and anti-social families. Delivered by local authorities, the government claimed that the first phase of the programme had ‘turned around’ the lives of 99% of the 120,000 ‘troubled families’ identified at the outset of the programme and within the timescale set by David Cameron. Now in its second phase the programme is working with 400,000 more ‘troubled families’, using a ‘persistent, assertive and challenging’ model of ‘family intervention’.

Stephen will examine different aspects of the ‘troubled families’ story that should concern us, including:

  • its intellectual antecedents;
  • the misuse of research evidence throughout the programme;
  • the extent to which the families constitute ‘neighbours from hell’;
  • and the ability of ‘family intervention’ style practices to ‘turn around’ the lives of impoverished and disadvantaged families.

 

Frontline perspectives on the Troubled Families Programme

On Monday of this week, the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies published the views of an anonymous social worker who has first hand experience of working on and around the Troubled Families Programme. The worker argued that pressure from the government, in the form of cuts to local services had ‘caused staff to act against their ethical and professional values’ and argued that ‘a programme which aims to help families with multiple disadvantages is actually subjecting them to coercion and harassment’. They also claimed that a large proportion of the successes claimed by the ‘new’ approach have been delivered by ‘mapping’ families progress with existing services.

Yesterday, I added my perspective, including some historical context which highlighted the role that frontline workers have in negotiating and adapting policy to make it ‘work’, but also the constraints they face in their attempts to use discretion in their daily work. I then highlighted some of the views of the practitioners I have interviewed as part of my PhD research which suggest that the social worker who offered up their views to the CCJS isn’t an isolated case.

Whilst these two short blog posts highlight some of the criticisms of the TFP that can be found at a local level, it’s worth noting that lots of practitioners, and indeed the families themselves, are very supportive of and positive about the TFP-style ‘family intervention’ approach, as can be seen from some of the newspaper and peer-reviewed articles below.

Critical views on ‘family intervention’ approaches from the perspectives of family workers and families themselves are thin on the ground. Most writing, including peer-reviewed articles, often highlight the positive experiences of families and practitioners who are involved with ‘family intervention’. Accepting these accounts at face value, however, risks leaving us with a ‘common-sense’ view of the world.  I’d prefer to argue that we shouldn’t be so quick to take these things for granted and that a ‘break with immediate experience is an essential pre-requisite for social-scientific inquiry’ (Thompson, in Bourdieu, 1991: 11).

Newspaper articles

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/apr/07/troubled-families-support-cameron

http://www.theguardian.com/social-care-network/2013/nov/27/barnsley-council-services-troubled-families

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/nov/11/troubled-family-programme-government-success-council-figures

http://www.economist.com/news/britain/21688873-controversial-government-programme-trying-help-poorest-families-there-may-be-trouble

http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2011/aug/15/uk-riots-family-intervention

Peer-reviewed articles

Boddy, J., Statham, J., Warwick, I., Hollingworth, K. and Spencer, G. (2015) What Kind of Trouble? Meeting the Health Needs of ‘Troubled Families’ through Intensive Family Support, Social Policy and Society, First View Article, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S1474746415000494

http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=9989852&fulltextType=RA&fileId=S1474746415000494

Bond-Taylor, S. (2015) Dimensions of Family Empowerment in Work with So-Called ‘Troubled’ Families, Social Policy and Society, 14 (3): 371-384

http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=9748518&fulltextType=RA&fileId=S1474746414000359

Morris, K. (2013) Troubled families: vulnerable families’ experiences of multiple service use, Child and Family Social Work, 18 (2): 198–206

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2206.2011.00822.x/abstract

Hayden, C. & Jenkins, C. (2014) The ‘Troubled Families’ Programme in England: ‘wicked problems’ and policy-based evidence, Policy Studies, 35 (6): 631-649.

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01442872.2014.971732?journalCode=cpos20

The Troubled Families Programme: ‘dipstick’ policy-making?

I gave a presentation recently to some MA students on the use and misuse of academic research and evaluation ‘evidence’ in the Troubled Families Programme and thought the slides and links might be of interest to other. The presentation, which includes a number of hyperlinks to original sources and is full referenced, can be accessed by clicking on the image below.

Front slide

In the presentation I try and briefly highlight how research has been used, on both sides of the debate, in previous constructions of the underclass thesis, before moving on to highlight how research has effectively been misused and misrepresented throughout the development of the ‘troubled families’ narrative and the accompanying government programme.

It’s a theme I’ve explored before, in a post for Discover Society here, a working paper on how the government was deliberately misunderstanding troubled families and in the recent Centre for Crime and Justice Studies briefing paper here.

The main reading I recommended for students before the lecture is below:

Bailey, N. (2012) Policy based on unethical research, http://www.poverty.ac.uk/news-and-views/articles/policy-built-unethical-research

Gregg, D. (2010) Family intervention projects: a classic case of policy-based evidence, Centre for Crime and Justice Studies Available at http://www.crimeandjustice.org.uk/sites/crimeandjustice.org.uk/files/family%20intervention.pdf

Levitas, R. (2012) There may be ‘trouble’ ahead: what we know about those 120,000 ‘troubled’ families, PSE UK Policy Response Series No. 3 Available at http://www.poverty.ac.uk/system/files/WP%20Policy%20Response%20No.3-%20%20’Trouble’%20ahead%20(Levitas%20Final%2021April2012).pdf

If anyone wants any more information, or if anything isn’t clear in the presentation slides, please feel free to get in touch.

Best wishes,

Steve