Family Intervention Projects
During the last two decades, members of the Walker family, in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, had been causing trouble for their neighbours, the council, the police and local schools. But because the issues were dealt with by separate agencies, nobody fully appreciated the cumulative impact the family was having.
“Lots had been spent [to sort things out], but none of it was joined-up or co-ordinated”, says Keith Aubrey, Melton borough council’s corporate director of community support. “As a result, we didn’t realise how big the file on the family was.”
It turned out that in one year up to 60 repairs were needed to the nine-strong family’s council house; complaints led to neighbourhood officers being called out twice a week; unpaid debts ended up in court; and the local headteacher was battling to get the children on the “straight and narrow”. But after 15 months on one of the government’s Family Intervention Projects (FIPs), the Walkers have been transformed.
Under FIPs – launched in various parts of England in 2006, and due to roll out nationally in April to reach 20,000 cases – families facing eviction from their council home because of antisocial behaviour are assigned a key worker to help turn their lives around. The inputs are intensive and extensive – up to 14 hours per week, over six to 12 months – and are a mixture of challenge and support.
Ian Hale, who manages three projects for the charity Action for Children, one of the agencies running FIPs in Leicestershire, says a key to success is an agreement signed between an agency and a family. Although it is voluntary, the threat of eviction is a major incentive to take part.
Under the agreement, agencies work with a family to identify their aims, such as getting children back into school, the actions needed to achieve them, the support to be provided, the punishments to be imposed if things go wrong and the rewards to be made when they go right.
FIPs disperses families into new neighbourhoods, in an effort to separate them from other troublemakers. Kate Walker, whose eight children are aged between four and 18, says her problems escalated out of control after her partner left 18 months ago. “The old house was chaos and wrecked. It was that bad I didn’t really care – I let the children do what they liked.”
She says of the FIPs agreement: “The children didn’t like it, or the new house – they missed their friends – but it provided us with a clean start.”
Since October 2007, the FIP has offered Walker individual support, group sessions and coaching in parenting skills. Practical help has included enforcing bedtime and breakfast routines, and daily chores.
Previously, the family was in chaos, says their key worker, Steven Plews. The Walkers were receiving almost daily police attention. Because of persistent antisocial behaviour, notice had been served on their house. The two eldest boys were in pupil referral units. And Walker was in severe debt and rent arrears.
Now there are few reported problems. The new house is kept in good order, one of the elder boys is back at school, there is 100% attendance among the youngest four, and Walker is paying off her arrears. “I feel good – I am a changed person,” says Walker. “It wasn’t just moving house that did it – it was the support that came with it.”
The projects don’t work for every family, admits Hale. Abiding by the agreement is hard work and it’s hard being told what to do, but, according to an independent evaluation undertaken last year by the National Centre for Social Research, staff feedback on the first 90 families who completed FIPs was that they displayed “considerable improvements”.
It is a combination of factors that makes FIPs work, says Hale: the jointly prepared agreement; the mixture of challenge and reward; the channelling of contacts through one person; and the intensive, out-of-hours and weekend working.
Such outreach projects are also considered cost-effective – in savings to agencies and not least in the benefits to families and neighbourhoods.