Pointing the finger at “Troubled Families”

The media buzzes again today with discussion about help for Cameron’s 120,000 “troubled families”. (BBC article here)

The term itself has fallen into disrepute, not least since revelations regarding the integrity of the statistical base for the government’s claims. (Tim Harford’s excellent radio article here) However, we are in danger of focusing so much on the blatant disregard of facts that we forget that there are indeed many families in dire need of help, whether the 120,000 experiencing multiple disadvantage, or the families (quantity unknown) about whom Cameron was actually talking. There will, presumably, be some overlap, but the suggestion that being poor, unwell or disabled, and in substandard housing, automatically qualifies you as a “neighbour from hell” is deeply offensive. In a post today, Declan Gaffney suggests that the situation could be easily redeemed, and our attention refocused presumably, if government spokespeople would only admit to the flaws.

The £450m on offer is very welcomed by those planning work with these families, but let us remember that there have already been successful Family Intervention Project programmes running for some years, some of which have been subject to funding cuts since Cameron came to power. These established, joined-up services had themselves developed an expertise in terms of knowledge, understanding, resources and responses.

Today Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, is reported as saying, ‘Sometimes we’ve run away from categorising, stigmatising, laying blame.’ There is the suggestion that families, specifically parents, should be required to take greater responsibility for their situations and their actions. Yes, we should all accept responsibility for those things which are within our control and at which we fail. But we should never simply assume that a chaotic and dysfunctional household is the lifestyle of choice for such families. Many factors have come together over the years to bring about a loss of control and discipline over the children, a less than middle-class approach to home ownership and repair, a degree of violence within and without the home which is at odds with the law. Family Intervention Projects have achieved a marked degree of success. They do so by dedicated, long term, commitment, not by indulging bad behaviour or glossing over the problems, and certainly not by pointing the finger.


Filed under Discussion, news reports

5 responses to “Pointing the finger at “Troubled Families”

  1. Am also a fan of Family Intervention as they are dedicated workers with a long term agenda & get involved at grass roots with a family

  2. Thank you for putting this excellent post together Helen (with very useful links).
    I agree, that it does feel like we could be moving into a scapegoating phase for families with multiple needs. I would really love to know how many of the total number of ‘Troubled Families’ in the UK have:
    – backgrounds (past or present) of Domestic Violence
    – how many of these parents (usually mums) picking up the parenting role after DV are now struggling with child to parent abuse?
    And a further question would be…
    – how many of such parents (and their young person(s) have actually been offered a targeted intervention for this issue; rather than blamed, shamed, punished or ignored??
    Before pointing the finger of blame – I think the politicians would find it useful to explore connections to the high rate of domestic abuse in ‘troubled families’, and what they actually need to heal and move forward effectively, to reverse this damaging cycle.

    • Yes, Lynette, there are strong links between previous, or indeed ongoing, exposure to domestic violence and issues such as behaviour problems, crime and mental health. The 4Children report, The Enemy Within, is very strong on this (and specifically mentions the 120,000 figure), as is the Family Lives report, When Family Life Hurts. Much of the work on FIPs has uncovered parent abuse that was not previously understood or acknowledged. Judy Nixon has contributed to the knowledge about these links.

  3. Ann Ramsden

    I agree, 97% of the young people I worked with last year had witnessed domestic abuse, I have been working with families and young people for 5 years now, the local authority are aware but it’s a subject with little research, which has the affect of minimum funding available to work with these families or train staff to the ground work with the families. We worked alongside Sally Fawcette and Lynette to develop ‘DO IT DIFFERENT’ we all had the experience, knowledge in the subject and belief that things can change. As a voluntary organisation it takes a long time for the public sector to see are value, skills and knowledge within are chosen fields. We are currently trying to get research done within are practice to identify generational learnt aggressive and conforming behaviours, it’s obvious to us as we work with it daily, it seem the fear is the cost, through early intervention we have supported a number of children and families in changing, they need to learn the skills how to change it, and what is a normal safe relationship and why they behave the way they do. This may seem simple but I do have a great understanding of the subject, I was brought up in domestci abuse, became violent to my dad, and also went into a violent relationship. I did not see myself as a perpetrater or a victim this was my life and violence was a normal part of it, until I reach 28 years old, then i had chance to find out I wasn’t an evil person, I had unfortunately learnt by seeing my parent deal with their emotions in a aggressive way. Hopefully things will change for these families across the UK and the prevention will be seen when these young people have their own families.

    • Thank you Ann for your comments and encouragement.
      I was hearing today about some of your work from a Leeds based practitioner, who was overwhelmingly positive about the impact you are having. Your own personal journey reminds us all that change is possible and that we are right to hope for something better.

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