Sin bins. That’s what a network of support schemes for antisocial families were dubbed in the media, after the prime minister announced plans to open 50 new projects by the end of 2006. Apparently the choice phrase sin bin originated in the Home Office.
But what will the schemes actually consist of? Familiar social work techniques will be used to offer intensive support, it seems in projects run by local authorities and voluntary agencies. Hardly sin bins, then.
The government says the projects will use “intensive tailored action, with supervision and clear sanctions”. A key feature will be a single member of staff co-ordinating all services and professionals involved with each family, to provide consistency. Antisocial families often receive high levels of services but the net effect is “disappointing”, perhaps due to lack of co-ordination by the many agencies involved, the government said in its Respect action plan.
An evaluation of six projects supporting families at risk of homelessness, due to antisocial behaviour was published in January 2006. Commissioned by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and conducted by Sheffield Hallam University, it only has interim conclusions (a final report will follow) but includes a lot of practice detail, outlined below.
Five of the projects are joint work between children’s charity NCH and local authorities in Blackburn with Darwen, Bolton, Manchester, Oldham and Salford. One project is run by Sheffield Council, believed to be the first local authority to develop such a service.
All six are modelled on the Dundee Families Project run by NCH, practice endorsed by the government for tackling antisocial behaviour, so likely to be similar in the 50 new schemes.
Staff in the six projects provide a range of services including supporting families in their own homes and in tenancies managed by projects. Some projects also have a residential unit for families needing more intensive support.
Families referred to the projects tended to be large with one in five consisting of four or more children. Eight out of 10 were headed by lone mothers.
Service users had “multiple and inter-related support needs that had been manifest over a long period of time”, says the report. These included special educational needs, poor health, substance abuse and violence.
The four most frequent types of antisocial behaviour were youth nuisance, property damage, intimidation or bullying, and disputes between neighbours.
Reasons why families are referred vary. But “in many areas there was a lack of appropriate services for families with multiple support needs and in these areas the projects filled a gap in service provision,” says the report.
Project staff develop a tailor made individual support plan for each family member. This might include mediation and liaison with other agencies; budgeting skills; addressing health needs; parenting; support at home; and work on issues of motivation, self esteem and anger management.
Families receiving intensive support live in flats located within a project’s premises and managed by the project. Rules may include set times for families to be in during the evening; and visitors only allowed with permission.
The report analyses work with 131 adults and 259 children (99 families) up to July 2004, during their first year of operation.
Interim findings (only limited data was collected) show that 42 per cent of families fully participated with the projects, and a further 17 per cent partly engaged.
Information about complaints of antisocial behaviour was collected about 62 families. Of these complaints were down for 50 families.
Out of the 38 families where school attendance was recorded, it improved in 31 families.
There were also improvements in maintaining tenancies and making planned moves.
Download Interim evaluation of rehabilitation projects for families at risk of losing their homes as a result of antisocial behaviour here