An evaluation of a government programme intended to improve the lives of families with multiple needs has found that the scheme has improved outcomes in a host of areas, with a particular reduction in the number of children being taken into care.
The evaluation of the Troubled Families Programme, which has been running since 2015, found “encouraging” evidence of the scheme’s effectiveness. Its analysis of national datasets identified a number of improvements for those involved in the £920m scheme, which is intended to provide early intervention and more coordinated help from central and local government to around 400,000 families at risk of a number of social problems.
It was an expansion of the first round of the troubled families programme, which began in 2012 and was intended to “turn around” the lives of 120,000 families by 2015.
Positive impacts for those taking part in the second tranche of the scheme included a reduction in the proportion of looked-after children, convictions and custodial sentences, and those claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance.
In a statement published alongside the evaluation, Dame Louise Casey – who from 2012 to 2015 was the civil service lead on the programme as director general in the then-Department for Communities and Local Government – said the report showed government “was absolutely right to have invested so much in this approach”.
Casey, who left government in 2017, added: “Since 2012, the first and current Troubled Families Programmes have – very deliberately – shaken up the way families with complex problems are supported, ensuring they are identified earlier to get the help they need, which is completely focused on helping families live better lives.
“Helping families to help themselves so their kids are not taken into care or family members ending up in prison and getting more people from the programme into work is testament to what frontline staff can do with the right resources and backing.”
‘Most striking finding’
The evaluation found that since 2015, the scheme had reduced the proportion of children in the group going into care by a third – 1.7% of children were taken into care between 19 to 24 months after joining the programme, compared to 2.5% of a comparison group not in the scheme, a 32% difference.
The report said this was “the most striking finding”, but also found that the scheme reduced the proportion of adults receiving custodial sentences – 1.2% of the programme group compared to 1.6% of the comparison group. Fewer juveniles in the programme group were sentenced: 0.5% compared with 0.8%.
There was also a statistically significant difference for adults claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance after 24 months in the programme: 9.3% in the progamme group, compared with 10.5% in the comparison group.
According to the evaluation, the scheme also delivered a net public benefit estimated at £366m for its 2017/18 cohort through reduced demand for services and Jobseeker’s Allowance. This means that for every £1 spent on the programme, it delivered £2.28 of benefits, according to the review.
Communities secretary James Brokenshire said the analysis proved the programme “has a valuable role to play as we look forwards to the upcoming Spending Review” at a time was “fresh thinking" was needed to tackle challenges such as knife crime and gang culture.
He added: “It’s inspiring to see agencies working better together to help people succeed, but the real story is the thousands of people who’ve taken control of their own lives. People are being helped to help themselves.”
Indeed, the evaluation found the programme had helped improve local services. The programme is led by the 152 upper-tier councils in England, and the report found that “families at risk are being identified more proactively and can therefore receive support earlier” and that “multi-agency working has strengthened in the five case study areas over the course of the programme”, with “relationships with schools, health and police are all improving”.
Evaluation ‘fairly robust, given the data available’
Jonathan Portes, a former Cabinet Office chief economist and now professor of economics and public policy at King's College London who evaluated the first stage of the scheme in 2016, said the latest review was welcome, having been asked to look at it before publication by local government minister Rishi Sunak.
“The results are fairly robust, given the data available,” he told CSW. “However, the actual impacts of the programme are largely confined to children at serious risk. The most important and significant impact of the programme is to reduce the number of children going into care. The numbers involved are relatively small – less than one percent of those on the programme – and interpretation is difficult without knowing more about why children are not going into care.
“There is essentially no measurable or significant impact on benefit receipts or employment (the JSA result referred to is not at all convincing, especially taken together with the lack of impact on employment). Given the nature of the programme and the target group, that is not surprising,”
He said that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government was “quite right to argue that a major investment in children’s services is required and should be a priority in the Spending Review”.
“That won’t and shouldn’t be an extension of the Troubled Families Programme, but there are definitely lessons, positive and negative, from the programme.”