The troubled families programme is a major government initiative and one of its most prominent aims is to tackle problems with truancy and exclusion children of troubled families often have.
As Family Action's new report shows these problems are indicators for more complex problems at home that very disadvantaged families are unable to tackle these issues on their own. In order for the troubled families programme to have sufficient effect on improving school attendance, it needs to be recognised that a one size fits all approach will not work and that additionally strong partnerships are needed between schools, family support services and health services.
The issues troubled families have include mental health problems, family bereavements and discrimination. Others are the result of parents' lack of know how, like the inability to manage chronic health conditions of their child or a lack of confidence in setting boundaries and routines.
Our learning is that it's important to tailor the support to the family's individual needs and include parents in strategies to improve the attendance and behaviour of their children. This will allow families to be more engaged with the support they're receiving and the progress they're making.
But to tackle the whole range of needs troubled families have, it is essential for support services like ours to collaborate with professionals from the education, social work and health sectors. An open attitude to the programme is needed from all organisations for the collaboration to be successful. Siloed approaches from schools or health partners will reduce the TFP's chances of success.
One of the children we've helped is David. Living alone with his mum and recently diagnosed with type one diabetes, David had not been at school for a year. His mother failed to challenge him to maintain the healthy daily routine so important in managing chronic conditions. Instead, wanting to protect her son, she allowed him to stay at home and eat what he wished.
Family Action helped David's mother implement routines and boundaries and got the family to accept help from specialist health services. We worked together with his school in making sure David was supported. After the 14 week period David was fully engaged with the help services and attending school every day. With increased knowledge, David's mother felt empowered to continue supporting her son on her own and to go out to work.
The story of David is encouraging. It demonstrates the potential power of the Troubled Families programme if the reality of troubled families lives is understood and responded to.