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Reward councils for tackling problem families

Aiken Cllr Nickie Aiken, Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Community Protection at Westminster City Council offers Government a proven solution to the causes of the riots.

The fight back has begun. The Prime Minister’s words show the need for strong action to punish those guilty of causing chaos and destruction on our streets. Local authorities are already using the tools at our disposal to do so, evicting from their social homes those convicted of rioting. With questions now being asked about how the 120,000 most troubled families in our society can be helped there is also a role for local authorities in tackling the root causes of the violent disorder and restoring  the moral anchor of society. Local authorities are uniquely equipped to fulfil this role.

In 2008 Westminster launched its Family Recovery Programme, providing support to our most vulnerable and troubled families. The project provides a team around each family for six to 12 months and uses the expertise and intelligence of a full range of professionals to assess, intervene and persist to help some of the most vulnerable people in our community.

Despite years of intervention, families were previously passed between agencies, engaged with numerous programmes and discussed their concerns with practitioner after practitioner with the taxpayer throwing yet more money into a bottomless pit. A new approach was needed. The Family Recovery Programme was born.

Families must sign a contract with the council in order to take part. The agreement sets out the possible sanctions - eviction, parenting orders, care proceedings and other forms of court action - in the event of a repeated failure to cooperate with the programme.

The Family Recovery Programme’s success comes in its simplicity. By sharing information, coordinating resources and pooling expertise local agencies can help our most troubled families.

Once the family leaves the programme, their progress is monitored for another two years to ensure they do not return to their old ways and to give additional support if needed.

The success of the programme informed the nationwide launch of community budgets in 2010, with 16 areas given pooled budgets to tackle the families with the most complex needs in society. Despite the roll out of the programme this year, the rhetoric is yet to become the reality. Pooled budgets, including those from large government departments, have failed to materialise and local authorities have struggled to fund programmes despite being able to demonstrate results due to a lack of financial support from Whitehall.

Even a Department for Communities and Local Government ‘stock take’ noted that a lack of pooling had stymied the pilot programme’s progress. Ripe for payment by results this programme delivers. The statistics speak for themselves. An initial £1 spent on Family Recovery is estimated to help avoid £3
- £4 after 24 months but a very small proportion of these savings fall to the local authority. Through the intervention of the Family Recovery Programme the average number of arrests for crime households dropped from 9 to 1.5 a month and anti-social behaviour reduced by nearly half.

If the Prime Minister and Home Secretary seek a ‘root and branch’ solution to these deeply ingrained problems which blight our society, investment in proven local programmes should be fully explored before new initiatives are floated, tested and evaluated. This must, however, be combined with an uncompromising message to Whitehall bureaucrats that ministers are resolute in their demands for change.

Cabinet Ministers have seen first-hand the success of the Family Recovery Programme, and I would welcome the opportunity to showcase the success of this method further. It has already been demonstrated that a system that incentivises joint working between local government, schools, police and the probation system works; there is no need to reinvent the wheel.


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