Troubled Families expansion to focus on younger children and health problems

By Joe Lepper

| 19 August 2014

An expansion of the Troubled Families initiative is to focus on tackling poor health and supporting children under the age of five, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has revealed.

Mental health issues and obesity have been highlighted as problems faced by "troubled families". Picture: Mark Pinder

Yesterday the government pledged to increase the number of families receiving intensive government support to turn their lives around from 120,000 to 500,000.

In a separate announcement today communities secretary Eric Pickles said helping younger children living in chaotic families as well as reducing ill health will be greater priorities as the initiative expands.

This will include a heightened focus on tackling domestic violence, reducing debt and supporting children at risk of being taken into care as well as retaining a focus on reducing truancy, crime and antisocial behaviour.

The focus on health follows latest DCLG research that found widespread and severe problems such as obesity and mental health conditions among those being offered support through the initiative.

The research found that 71 per cent of families include someone with at least one health problem and 46 per cent of families included an adult with a mental health problem. A third have an adult family member with a long-standing illness or disability. In a fifth of families a child has a serious illness or disability.

The DCLG says treating such problems just as a medical issue “is unlikely to be successful” unless it is complemented with the multi-level, intensive support the Troubled Families initiative offers.

Obesity was another problem highlighted. In research carried out among Salford families being offered support, 93 per cent of 35- to 54-year-olds were obese. In addition, half of all families had a record of obesity, compared to a quarter of the general England-wide population.

The Salford research also found 14 per cent of families had at least one adult with an alcohol dependency and 13 per cent had an adult with a drug dependency. England-wide, four per cent of families have a family member being treated for alcohol dependency.

Children’s health was another concern highlighted. A third of children involved in the initiative have a mental health problem and one in five had a clinical diagnosis. As a comparison it is estimated that one in ten children in England have a mental health problem.

One in 20 families included somebody under the age of 18 who was pregnant, the research also found.

The focus on younger children has been welcomed by Helen Berresford, head of public affairs at the charity 4Children.

She said: “Today’s announced expansion to families with younger children is very welcome, particularly as we know that the experiences in a child’s first years are crucial to their life chances.

“Across the country half a million families are reported to be living on the edge of crisis and dealing with a range of serious problems. Every one of them will need intensive and dedicated support to make a positive difference to their lives.”

The expansion of the Troubled Families initiative was announced by Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday.

It was launched in April 2012 with the aim of turning around 120,000 families’ lives by April 2015. But figures revealed in July show just 52,833 families had achieved long-term change.

Pickles said: “The Troubled Families programme has been a brilliant partnership between the government and councils, changing the way services are run, saving taxpayers money and turning around the lives of some of the hardest to help in the country, with kids back in school, youth crime and antisocial behaviour cut and adults better able to work.

“Building on this momentum, we are now able to help even more families and deal with even more problems and I am delighted that that work will now begin in the next few months.”


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