‘Double Trouble’: the ‘dual problematization’ in the ‘troubled families narrative

A few weeks ago I gave a paper at the Social Policy Association conference in Sheffield. The slides from the presentation can be accessed by clicking on the image below.

SPA slides

In the paper I try to argue that, as well as the problematization of the families themselves in the ‘troubled families’ discourse, the organisations that have traditionally provided services to these families are also problematized. The paper draws on work by Evelyn Brodkin and Deborah Stone who argue that if ‘problematic’ individuals or the conditions in which they live are the main target of contemporary public policies, a secondary target is the ‘underperforming’ or ‘inefficient’ public services that are working with them. Stone suggests that this is akin to a ‘culprit’ and ‘accomplice’ situation. This problematization is, I think ,easy to miss because there is so much in the depiction of the families and the development of the programme itself that warrants analysis and critique.

However, the ‘trouble families’ narrative – and indeed that of ‘family intervention projects’ more widely is full of examples of the problematization of current and historical social and family services to disadvantaged communities. FIPs have always been portrayed as a response to the failing of traditional services – in New Labour’s RESPECT agenda when they were rolled out nationally, they were tasked not just with ‘gripping the families’ but ‘gripping the services’ that worked with the families as well.

Of course, this narrative of ‘broken services’ helps to pave the way for the kind of  ‘public service transformation’ which Louise Casey has spoken of in her desire to ‘change the mainstream’. The Troubled Families Programme has never been about a singular programme aimed at ‘turning round’ the lives of a distinct group of families deemed to be troublesome. It is, fairly obviously now, about fundamentally changing the way that the state engages with a much wider group families who it identifies as being ‘in need’ of intervention and/or ‘deviant’ in some way. Cohen’s metaphor of the ‘widening of the net’ and Donzelot’s image of a nest of Russian dolls, with an initial model accompanied by a series on enveloping ones, are, I think, particularly useful concepts in thinking about the future development of the ‘troubled families’ approach.

 

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