Social work diary: ‘I’m in trouble with Troubled Families’

Voicing concerns that David Cameron’s Troubled Families scheme risks stigmatising families and piling more work on our overstretched social work team has landed me in hot water, writes an anonymous social worker

Pic credit: Jeff Blackler/Rex Features

Monday

This morning I attended a meeting about the Troubled Families programme. The project co-ordinator had come up with a list of ‘troubled families’ in the area and wanted to know what agencies were working with them. 

The meeting worried me. Nearly all the young people we work with were on the list, as so many of them have committed an offence in the last year and are demonstrating difficult behaviour in school.

However, are they all from ‘troubled families’? How would they feel if they knew they were being discussed in this way?

When I did my social work training we talked about labelling theory and ‘minimal intervention’ – the idea that diverting people out of our systems was often the most effective way to work with them.

Somehow I don’t think that the implications of stigmatising people by labelling them ‘troubled’ is high on Mr Cameron’s agenda!

At the moment the scheme doesn’t have any specific workers, so the assumption seems to be that the workers already involved with the families should become the lead professional.

That’s going to mean a lot of extra work and paperwork for my staff. How on earth am I going to sell this one? My team are already completely overstretched and piling further responsibilities on them is not going to be popular or realistic.

While there is funding associated with Troubled Families, there is nothing available to help us with the additional work that is being suggested.

I want to be co-operative with my colleagues who are promoting the scheme and open to the potential for good that could come of the additional support to families. But I feel concerned about how this is going to work and I ask a number of questions in the meeting expressing my concerns.

Wednesday

I’m now in trouble with Troubled Families. The organisers of the meeting reported to my manager that I asked too many questions and was not sufficiently positive about the initiative.   

My immediate response is to be angry and  defensive, however I recently read some good advice about how to avoid getting into defensive reactions. It said that if someone criticises you, you should bear in mind the fact that their words probably contain at least 10% of truth. 

Therefore, even if they are 90% wrong there is still something to learn if you take the time to listen to the critique.

I will give it some thought and see if I can work out a way to be more co-operative without landing too much extra work on my team.  

Thursday

I had a really supportive email from a senior manager this morning. He shares some of my concerns about Troubled Families and is going to see if there is way to minimise duplication of work. It’s so nice to have encouraging words sometimes.

The manager concerned is very senior in the organisation. Despite him having a fearsome work schedule, he always takes the time to show an interest in practice issues and thank staff personally.

Having people like this in the profession makes a real difference. Wholeheartedness is a rare quality these days and we are fortunate in social work to have many people who show us what that looks like.

Friday 

After what feels like a long week I pick my daughter up from school. They had a policeman in their class today talking about respect for other people’s property.
“I don’t think  I’ll ever get into trouble,” she says.

I hope she’s right, but who knows what could happen when the fierce storm of adolescence hits?

One thing is for sure, I really don’t want us to end up on the Troubled Families list.

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