Research into practice

People may become transient because of financial problems, family break-up, avoidance of crime, poor health or personal traits. Whatever the reason, their lifestyle raises social work issues, and intervention by social services or other agencies may be appropriate.

A research study was commissioned to explore the personal experiences of transient people living on a large council estate in north west England, with the aim of identifying appropriate interventions.1 It involved a focus group and semi-structured interviews with 14 agency stakeholders, 16 transient people and 6 long-term residents. The results of these interviews provide a critique for service delivery.

It was agreed to define as “transient” anyone who had moved home three times in the past two years. The average number of moves per transient household was 3.5, with those in single-person households being the most transient with an average of 6.25 moves.

The underlying causes of transience included financial problems, family break-up, avoiding crime, poor health and personality traits.

Those who were deemed “transient” gave the following reasons for their previous move:

  • Escaping domestic violence.
  • Homelessness, often associated with relationship break-up or mental illness.
  • Ease of getting property quickly.
  • To be near friends and family.

It is possible to talk about different types of transient people depending on their reasons for transience. There was evidence that agencies are developing good multi-agency responses to transient children and families. Most agencies were optimistic about the services they provided and were committed to improving services.

All agencies were concerned about the resources demanded by transient people, especially the time spent tracking transient people down in child protection cases. Schools were also concerned about the behavioural problems of transient pupils and the impact they had on Sats and GCSE scores and also league tables.

In our research, all parents of male pupils who had moved school at least once defined their sons as having behavioural problems. These included suspensions and referrals to psychologists. This is not to say that there were no female pupils with behavioural difficulties, but that they were not as numerous.

Several single transients had mental health problems and would just move accommodation when difficulties became too great. These transient people ran the risk of falling outside the state’s safety net. A high percentage of transient people had a disability, with most transient people existing on state benefits. Only one transient person was working full-time and one part-time.

The transient people defined acceptance on the estate as either a lack of violence towards themselves or them being “hard” enough to look after themselves. This group was distinguished by its lack of involvement in the local networks or the local community.

There are real social work issues involved with transient people including family support, child protection, domestic violence, mental health and disability. Children and families often fall through the net as people move from place to place. There is also a debate to be had as to whether transient people are being dumped on estates.

None of these problems are soluble by social services alone, and it is imperative that work on such estates is multi-agency and co-ordinated.

1 F Blackburn and H McLaughlin, Action Research on Transience, unpublished, 2003. For further details contact

Foluke Blackburn and Hugh McLaughlin are full-time members of staff in the school of community, health sciences and social care, University of Salford.

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