‘Troubled families’ has become something of a watchword in recent discussions of social policy.
Earlier this week I attended a breakfast seminar, hosted by The Children’s Society, at which Emma Harrison, Chair of the Working Families Everywhere initiative, spoke about her work. (Back in December 2010, the Prime Minister asked her to lead a drive in this area.)
The label ‘troubled’ covers a wealth of problems – poor or unsuitable housing, worklessness, crime and antisocial behaviour. According to the figures there are 120,000 such families in the UK, which cost the tax payer somewhere close to £9bn per year. Ask the Police and they know who are the troubled families on their patch. Ask the social services department and they know too. But try to define it precisely and it’s very difficult.
The issue of what happens to the children and young people in these families is at the fore. We know that their well-being is likely to be very low. Achieving good GCSE results, going to college or university, and getting a steady job, will all be much more difficult, if not impossible, without addressing this. Emma says they overwhelmingly just ‘want to get on and pay their way’, but don’t know how.
At the moment the structures of support are inadequate. Typically, these families receive support from up to 22 statutory and voluntary agencies. Much better, Emma argues, to have a single body coordinating these activities. It is impossible to disagree.
As part of these changes, improving well-being, and being able to measure this improvement, must be one of the building blocks. Change is often slow and progress in this area so needs to be measured in increments. In defining a chain of outcomes (or a theory of change), measuring well-being can be a key part of the plan.