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Helping 'troubled' families could have saved Westcountry councils £150 million

By North Devon Journal  |  Posted: August 19, 2014

David Cameron: Prime Minister David Cameron at Relate’s Exeter office talking to Relate staff.

Prime Minister David Cameron at Relate’s Exeter office talking to Relate staff.

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EVERY "troubled" family costs an average of £75,000 a year, according to the Government.

And Westcountry councils could have saved around £150 million by helping 2,000 of these families in the region.

The figure emerged as David Cameron yesterday announced a major extension of a flagship scheme to get truanting children back to school, adults into work and antisocial behaviour under control.

The Government has identified 4,620 families in Devon, Cornwall and Somerset putting huge pressure on the police, NHS and council.

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But ministers say almost half – or 2,003 families – have now been “turned around” and hundreds more are getting one-to-one support.

The Prime Minister set out an ambitious plan to help 120,000 households by May 2015 as part of his response to rioting in London and other cities in the summer of 2011.

Now, up to 500,000 are due to be targeted – more than four times the number targeted in the initial stage – with work due to begin first in the 51 local authorities which have so far proved most successful with the work. Plymouth City Council will be in the first wave. Health issues, both physical and mental, are to be at the forefront of the new push.

The Prime Minister also announced all Government policies will have to pass a “family friendly” test.

From October their interests will become an explicit element of Whitehall impact assessments – alongside issues such as cost-effectiveness, equality and the environment.

“For me, nothing matters more than family,” said Mr Cameron in a keynote speech in London before visiting the relationship counselling charity Relate in Exeter.

“Troubled” families were on average responsible for one police call-out a month, with one family triggering 90 police visits in six months.

Many in their mid-30s suffered from chronic health problems normally associated with old age, such as diabetes and heart conditions.

They have received support to help them into work and reduce antisocial behaviour.

Devon County Council has “turned around” 363 families, Cornwall Council 475, Somerset County Council 628, Plymouth City Council 426 and Torbay Council 111.

Superintendent Julie Whitmarsh, chair of Cornwall’s Together for Families programme, said the scheme was helping to tackle “complex issues”. “One lady we have worked with was caught shoplifting – but all she shoplifted was nappies,” she said. “It turned out she had other problems in her life we were able to help with.”

Councillor John Hart, leader of Devon County Council, said: “Not only is this benefiting these families, but it will also reduce costs in the long term for all partners.”

Mr Cameron also announced a doubling of funding for counselling services to £20 million and plans to speed up the adoption process.

Plymouth to be pioneers of extended scheme

Plymouth has been chosen to pioneer the expansion of the Government’s “troubled families” programme after turning around the lives of more than 400 households, writes Graeme Demianyk, London Editor.

Plymouth City Council’s Families with a Future initiative has been named one

of the 51 best-performing schemes to help those blighted with problems including truancy, antisocial behaviour and domestic violence.

As a result it will be among the first wave to take forward a new aspect of the scheme to help vulnerable younger children from struggling homes.

Councillor Pete Smith, deputy leader of Plymouth City Council, said since launching Families with a Future in 2012 it has identified 745 households in need of the support and worked with 710 of them. Some 426 families have had their lives “turned around”.

He added: “We are also very proud of the families themselves who have taken part in this scheme.”

“It is great news that the scheme is being expanded to include children aged under-five and recognise the impact of health and social issues on people’s lives.

“This dovetails very well with our focus on early intervention and prevention, which needs to be at the heart of how we transform services.”

It is estimated that the families involved with the scheme cost the taxpayer an average of £75,000 per year, meaning they cost the state around £32 million a year in terms of pressure placed on services including the NHS and police.

At the moment, families have been deemed as ‘turned around’ under the scheme if the following three criteria have been met:

Children are back in school for three consecutive terms where they were previously truant or excluded

High levels of youth crime and anti-social behaviour have been significantly reduced, and/or

Adults that were on benefits have been in work for at least three months

The expanded scheme will include children aged under five, and families with physical and mental health issues. It will also address problems such as domestic violence, debt and children at risk of being taken into care.

Louise Casey, head of the Government’s Troubled Families programme, said: “Families with an average of nine different serious problems need help that gets in through the front door of their home and to the heart of what is really going on in their lives.

“The programme has been able to do that by taking a ‘tough love’ approach and dealing with the whole family and all of its problems.

“This has been the start of a revolution in the way that we work with our most challenging families and which we need to accelerate in the years ahead.”

Prime Minister announces extra £19.5m for ‘relationship support’

The Prime Minister has defended the Government’s record as he launched plans to “family proof” future policies and pump an extra £19.5 million into relationship counselling.

David Cameron announced measures designed to keep families together, at the office of Relate, in Exeter.

The Conservative leader told the Western Morning News the move did not imply that a succession of controversial policies, such as welfare reform and the “bedroom tax”, had not sufficiently gauged the effect on families.

“No, not at all. I think it has been a very family friendly government,” he said.

“Things like the right to request flexible working, shared parental leave – also we are the first government to introduce tax relief for childcare.

“Obviously, at the heart of every family is the need to have someone earning money and we have got two million more people in work.

“It’s just taking it further and faster and saying we should have a formal process looking at the effect of individual policies on families. I think our welfare reforms have been very pro-family and have resulted in 700,000 fewer people receiving out of work benefits.”

Mr Cameron also defended the deep cuts to council budgets, which had left local authorities in Devon and Cornwall struggling to shave more than a quarter of their annual income, and said the reductions would also pass the family test.

He met staff at the Relate office, one of 60 outposts of the counselling service around the country, which covers a huge area encompassing large swathes of Devon and part of Somerset.

Andrew Ketteringham, chairman of the board of trustees, said the extra £19.5m was “twice as much as before on relationship support” but said details remained “unclear”.

He added: “What we don’t know yet, because we only heard about this last night, is how this money is coming.

“Money will be coming

to the Relationship Alliance of which Relate is by far

the largest part. In what form we don’t know yet.”

Exeter Relate, which works with children under five, troubled families and also offers youth counselling, charges for appointments but offers means tested support.

Workers who met the PM welcomed the investment but said the centre was under threat of losing around £25,000 per year in NHS funding.

Rebecca Wellaway, a supervisor and counsellor, added: “What is not clear is how much money will be held centrally and how much is going to filter through to local level.

“The difference we would like to see is to be able extend the number of people we work with without cost being a barrier to access so we can help more people on lower income.

“It is important for people hearing the headline message not to make an assumption that everything at Relate was okay because we don’t know how much we will have yet.”

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