Meic Phillips explains how a north London support service for
vulnerable families produced benefits for users and council alike
To accept a challenge is to have an interesting life. That said,
and after reading my old social worker training blurb that told me,
“The first step is to assist the client to understand their
situation and to distinguish between the cause and effect of
problems”, I was pleased to read an external summary of one of our
services which matched the comment, “The worker will aid their
client to define their own problems and achieve their own
The Supporting People team at the London Borough of Haringey –
where nearly half the population come from an ethnic minority
background – commissioned a floating support service focused on
vulnerable families, particularly the 4,500 families in insecure
accommodation. The Haringey Tenancy Sustainment team (Harts) now
provides this service, and is part of Epic Trust.
There are 29 languages spoken within the Harts service, and with
two-fifths of our staff identifying with the borough, we have been
able to allocate support co-ordinators who are from the same
community and speak the same language.
We hold weekly language labs where staff are available for
translation of documents, interpreting, assisting with phone calls
and so on, making the service a lot more accessible to service
users from diverse communities.
It also became apparent that a substantial amount of cost savings
were being passed on to Haringey. The service user language cost
savings were arrived at by the basic formula: (weekly session
length) x (average number of weeks worked with) x (hourly
interpreting cost) x (number of service users who speak L – “L”
being a language spoken by the Harts team). Savings to date, based
on average length of case (23 weeks), amount to £141,864, with
ongoing weekly savings of £4,064.
These figures show that the Harts team, in aiming to employ a large
percentage of staff fluent in non-English languages is able to
incur great savings to the running of the team, and, more
importantly, is able to work with service users one-to-one, without
the added factor of communicating through interpreters.
It became evident that the needs identified upon assessment often
changed once Harts started working with the family. For example,
domestic violence issues were only raised after a rapport and
relationship of trust had been developed with the service user.
Outcomes of each case carry a substantial cost saving to the
council. The work conducted with families includes adding value for
money such as accessing charity grants for service users.
We found that Harts has effectively assisted homeless households to
establish secure and sustainable home environments while also
working to tackle poverty, poor health and social exclusion.
It is rewarding work. And we have forged strong relationships with
social services, mental health professionals, the antisocial
behaviour team, the housing department and many other services.
Meic Phillips is assistant director of Epic Trust, a care
and support provider in London