Displaying items by tag: David Gregg
I've only met Louise Casey the one time. She came to speak to me in 2008 as part of a consultation exercise for what became her report, Engaging Communities in Fighting Crime.
She sat politely. Smiled at the appropriate moments. Paid no attention to anything I said and wrote a report short on evidence and long on ideology and gut prejudice.
Parenting was a preoccupation of that report. Done badly, it put 'children at risk of getting involved in crime and anti-social behaviour'. Done well and it acted 'as a protection against poverty, social exclusion and poor educational attainment, as well as preventing crime and anti-social behaviour'.
Can parenting, however good, really protect children from poverty and social exclusion? Can poor educational attainment or deliquency really be laid at the door of 'bad' parents? Not for the first time, a basic truth – that a stable and loving emotional base is key to healthy childhood development – became invested with a significance and expectation far beyond what could be delivered.
Now, in her role as head of the 'Troubled Families Team' Casey has called on workers supporting families to start 'rolling up their sleeves and getting down and cleaning floors if that is what needs to be done'. Among her other suggestions are showing parents 'how to heat up a pizza' and 'going round three times a week at 7am to get Mum up'.
Louise Casey is what might be described as a 'colourful' character. Back in 2005 she extolled the benefits of binge drinking to an audience of police chiefs, suggested that government ministers might perform better if they 'turn up in the morning pissed' and joked that she would 'deck' Downing Street advisors who spouted jargon at her.
For most civil servants this would have been a career-ending speech. For Casey it merely burnished her reputation as someone not afraid to speak her mind. So it is with her latest intervention.
Headline grabbing statements aside, the 'troubled families' programme fronted up by Casey is but the latest in a long line of initiatives by successive governments to address apparent parental and family dysfunction.
According to the latest definition, a family is 'troubled' if it manifests five of the following characteristics:
- no one in the family is in work
- living in poor or overcrowded housing
- no parent has any qualifications
- mother has mental health problems
- at least one parent has a longstanding illness
- a low income
- an inability to afford a number of food, clothing items
Addressing these profound personal and familial needs is, apparently relatively straightforward. 'Turning troubled families around' involves 'getting children back in the classroom and not wandering the streets commiting crime' and 'getting parents onto the work programme'.
I doubt that anyone within or outside of government really believes it is as simple as this, or thinks that it amounts to a coherent programme for supporting families in crisis. Past experience of the family intervention projects is not encouraging. The risk that needy and desperately marginalised adults will simply end up being blamed for problems outside of their control is high.
And while it is easy to focus on the idiosyncrasies of a high-profile, outspoken civil servant, the real challenge is to develop policies that support individuals and families in need, and not just see them as a problem that needs to be tackled.
Update, May 19, 2012: More or Less, the BBC Radio 4 programme that explores the world of numbers, yesterday looked at the facts behind the claims about troubled families. Ruth Levitas, the University of Bristol research interviewed on More or Less, has also published a useful analysis on the Poverty and Social Exclusion in the UK website.
Following the 2010 report on Family Intervention Projects (FIPs), David Gregg offers a brief response to some of the key Coalition government FIP claims made during 2010-2011, amid criticism that the original report did not feature recent FIP results.
The following is a summary of some of the key evidence based issues that are still inherent within contemporary FIP schemes. Louise Casey, Coalition Tsar for ‘chaotic’ families, told the Home Affairs Select Committee in 2010 that ’66% of families’ had ceased anti-social behaviour (ASB). However after deconstructing the 66% success rate and considering a range of other factors, including the number of late finishers and drop outs at entry and exit, the true percentage fall in ASB was shown to be 32.9%. There is still a lack of evidence to verify whether FIPs were reaching the ‘worst families’, as Casey claimed.
Going further, 923 families of the 3657 families referred, were not considered ‘suitable for inclusion’. Considering this together with my earlier evidence, was this because these families were considered too difficult and uncooperative? If we calculate a conservative estimate of the overall ‘success rate’, accounting for the 923 rejected families, as well as the above factors the fall in ASB families overall is 26.1%, a figure far from the ‘claimed 66%’.
Under the Coalition, it appears that statistical reporting hasn’t improved. Data from the Department of Education (2011) for FIP families exiting up to March 2011 claims a 58% reduction in ASB (from 81 % to 34 %). A simple subtraction actually reveals 47% of families have reduced ASB compared to the 57% for the previous year, suggesting that FIPs are becoming less effective or that data are being more carefully considered. It’s hard to tell when evaluation reports on FIPs, with detailed discussions of data limitations, no longer appear to be issued before public performance claims are made.
There are many flaws regarding the government’s claims for FIP success. An example given in my 2010 paper is that the measure of ASB used in FIP evaluations is purely qualitative and largely subjective, so there is a remarkable degree of arbitrariness in the definition of success. Recent statistical releases indicate no improvement. In fact, OSR 14 /2011 shows that the qualitative approach to judging success has been extended to a wider range of measures. In 2011, the proportion of families leaving the projects for a ‘successful reason’, was 85%. However the report considers ten reasons for being ‘successful’ and any one will define the family as a success. The evaluation criteria and process are intrinsically biased. Furthermore, families are initially referred because of ‘multiple, complex, risk factors’. The (subjective) improvement in any one may not significantly reduce overall risk as OSR14/2011concedes. That is, families are still at risk when they complete a family intervention service and support ceases, even though the level of risk may have reduced.
One cannot but agree with the statement of Graham Allen MP on intervention: ‘Billions of pounds are paid out year after year; indeed decade after decade, often without the faintest acquaintance with an evidence base’. See Early Intervention: The Next Steps
Is there a debate to be had about Family Intervention Projects (FIPs)?
According to the Home Office website ‘Family intervention projects work to turn around the behaviour of families and reduce their impact on their community. In so doing, they also bring stability to families’ lives, prevent homelessness and improve opportunities for children.