‘Troubled’ families – personal histories

The personal histories of ‘troubled’ families are presented as ‘chaotic’ in a report by an official adviser. The government has pledged to turn around the lives of 120,000 such families in England by 2015.

Louise Casey, head of the Troubled Families unit, interviewed 16 families (identified via family intervention projects in six local authorities in England) with the aim of getting a ‘true and recent understanding’ of the problems the families face, their histories and the scale of the challenge involved in meeting the government’s pledge.

Key recurring themes

  • ‘Dysfunctional’ and unstable family structures.
  • History repeating itself within families and between generations.
  • Extended family and anti-social networks within communities that reinforce destructive behaviour.
  • The need for one assertive family worker offering practical help and support – but also sanction – in dealing with families.

One interim finding was that a whole-family approach is often best for dealing with multiple and inter-linked problems, rather than approaches that deal with single problems or single individuals within a household.

Reaction to the report by children’s organisations was mixed. Some welcomed the focus on a whole-family approach, but others expressed concern over treating troubled families as ‘problems’ and the isolation of just 120,000 families for attention.

Professor Ruth Levitas of Bristol University and a member of the PSE: UK research team describes the report as ‘policy-making by anecdote, more akin to tabloid journalism than serious research’. On the PSE comment pages in Still not listening, Levitas argues that Casey’s report is ‘pseudo-research’ based on at best (or worst) a tiny minority of those suffering severe and multiple deprivation and serves only to present the poor as dysfunctional, both as individuals and as families. Levitas also points out that 90 per cent of children in multiply deprived families have no record of trouble with either police or school. In an earlier PSE policy working paper (No. 3, There may be ‘trouble’ ahead), Levitas had questioned the accuracy of the 120,000 figure on which the troubled families unit is basing policy.

Casey caused further controversy in an interview with the Daily Telegraph newspaper, appearing to blame deprived families for having too many children. She was quoted as saying:

‘There are plenty of people who have large families and function incredibly well, and good luck to them, it must be lovely. The issue for me, out of the families that I have met, [is that] they are not functioning, lovely families. One of the families I interviewed had six social care teams attached to them: nine children, [and a] tenth on the way. Something has to give here really.’

Source: Louise Casey (Director General, Troubled Families), Listening to Troubled Families, Department for Communities and Local Government
Links: Report | DCLG press release | Action for Children press release | Barnardo’s press release | The Children’s Society press release | PSE comment | BBC report | Guardian report | Telegraph report
See also: PSE working paper No. 3