Troubled families / Child to parent violence: some background thinking

Bear with me as I wander around thinking out loud here.

I recently attended the Centre for Crime and Justice StudiesTroubled Families conference, in London.

Over the course of the day a number of eminent academics from across the fields of history, social policy, social work, sociology, economics, criminology and law presented papers on the origins, evaluation and policy context of the Troubled Families Programme. While the focus of the day was on the way that the Tory government had defined and presented a particular problem; and then gone on to provide a solution to it, regardless of evidence in either case, there was inevitably much to ponder in a more general sense, and much specifically relevant to work with child to parent violence.

I have been interested in the ideas behind the Troubled Families Programme for a long time and have mentioned it in blog posts before. In Britain some of the earliest awareness of the issue of child to parent violence emerged during evaluation of the FIP programme; and there is much to commend the idea of intensive, focused work with a family looking at all the issues they face – when the alternative might be a short assessment of the presenting problem and then referral on elsewhere. While there are huge problems with the way that families have been identified as needing support, and in the way the programme has been funded, some might say that long term, relationship based, holistic work sounds a lot like the social work they originally aspired to do.

So, some notes from the conference and some thoughts:

  • Programmes designed to work with “troubled families” across the decades have exclusively directed their attentions to mothers. In this, and other arenas, mothers are “held responsible” for their children in a way that fathers are not. Their duty to care and be responsible is very practical, but also somehow moral in nature.
  • Whether under Labour or Tory governments, the drive has been to individualise the difficulties facing families, and the accompanying solutions – Personal blame and failure, rather than government policy or societal failure.
  • The focus on the individual, and on everything accompanying that – takes focus and money away from community solutions, support networks, a sense of belonging and being cared for.
  • As always the assumption is that families who are struggling are from a particular section of society. “Othering” and then demonising as a result. Those with wealth are presented as not having personal or family difficulties. Yet we know that family violence (for example) cuts across all sectors of society. Very difficult for “ordinary” people to seek help then.
  • The presentation of poor parenting as at the root of all of society’s problems makes it even more difficult to ask for help. Your children are not only making problems for your family but for the whole of society.
  • As practitioners we need to develop a different understanding of the issues and a different model of help. To be driven by community led provision rather than individual pathologising. We need to listen to families rather than telling them what the problems are. Bottom up help as a result.

Sound familiar? Thanks for listening!

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