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Third Sector Voice Is Key to Tackling Troubled Families

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The establishment of the Family Strategic Partnership is an important opportunity for the voluntary and community sector; we have been asked by the government to speak on behalf of the third sector and the families we support.

Central government has commissioned our critical input in making and shaping policy in a powerful way.

This role is enabling us to speak out for those families we work with who struggle to have their voices heard.

Families like the Smith family - mum, dad, their two sons and two daughters were referred to Barnardo's after mum and dad were issued with a 12 month parenting order.

Dad was an alcoholic and drank all day, and his Disability Living Allowance had been stopped. The eldest son had been diagnosed with ADHD, he was electronically tagged and was involved with the Youth Offending Service. His behaviour was so volatile that his younger brother couldn't share a room with him and had to sleep in a room with his younger sisters. The girls were having some issues with their behaviour at school. Mum was struggling to cope.

This is just one example of the troubled families that many organisations in our line of work see on a daily basis.

The government will tell us that families like the Smiths cost the taxpayer on average £75,000 per year, that the children in this family are 36 times more likely to be excluded from school and that they six times more likely to have been in care or to have contact with the police.

They will tell us that we can't afford to keep footing the monumental bills for this social failure.

I quite agree. But more than cost it is the sheer waste of potential that is lost by not helping these families.

And it is the organisations across the third sector which have the insight and experience to help turn their lives around.

The third sector is able to reach out to these troubled families in a way that works. It works because families are not suspicious of us, they are not intimidated by our services and they are able to trust us.

From their perspective, our services do not carry the threat of authority. They do not carry stigma.

And we are in a position of independence which enables us to co-ordinate support from a variety of agencies to get the family as whole the help that they needed.

It is never a good time to be a family in trouble, but now it is especially difficult.

Services for children and young people have taken a hard hit from the public sector spending cuts.

Research by the Family Strategic Partnership member Children England on the impact of public sector spending cuts on children's charities indicated that 70% were experiencing cuts to their budgets with children's centres, Sure Start services, youth work, family support services and play services amongst the hardest hit.

I know that many voluntary sector organisations are facing severe financial difficulties.

So it is with relief that we welcome the government's programme that is making £450million available, to be matched by local authorities, for a cross-government drive to turn around the lives of 120,000 of some of the country's most troubled families by the end of this parliament.

Better still - government is working with us on how to use the money available.

This is an opportunity that we are determined not to waste.

I know a number of questions have already been raised across our partnership about the details of the new programme.

Some are anxious that using payment-by-results might lead to cherry picking the troubled families to work with and still leaving the hardest to reach.

Others have asked how we will avoid creating a stigma for the families that go on the 'troubled' list and what will happen at the end of the programme.

One of the reasons why the Department for Education set up the Family Strategic Partnership in April last year was to provide avenues through which we can have our questions answered and increase our understanding of policy developments that affect us as organisations and the families we work with.

Today is a red letter day for us - we have come together with the new head of the Troubled Families Unit Louise Casey for the first time - a great example of this important work in action.

The Family Strategic Partnership and our partner organisations will help to drive the government's strategy to turn around the lives of our country's most troubled families.

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