Pooled family intervention projects prove their worth

Natasha Bishopp, head of FRP (Pic: John Behets)

An intervention project in Westminster is helping families who might otherwise have had their children placed in the care system, reports Julie Griffiths


Project name: Family Recovery Programme.

Aims: To improve outcomes and strengthen families, reduce crime and disorder, reduce duplication of resources and reduce long-term costs to public services.

Number of service users: 123 families (November 2010).

Caseload capacity: Teams take on 80 cases over a period of 12 months.

Costs for 2010-11: £985,000 from pooled resources, including Westminster Council, central government Think Family pathfinder money, Westminster Primary Care Trust, Metropolitan Police and the European Social Fund.

Timescale: Pilot began in October 2008


Amid the uncertainty arising from last autumn’s comprehensive spending review, the government signalled its intention to prioritise family intervention projects and pooled budgets that focus on families with multiple problems.

Ministers have since highlighted Westminster Council’s Family Recovery Programme (FRP) as a model of this approach. A recent evaluation of the two-year pilot has shown savings of about £2m a year and positive outcomes for children and adults who were formerly trapped in a cycle of unemployment, domestic violence and ill health.

Natasha Bishopp, head of the FRP, says the council implemented the programme because it found too many families were falling through gaps, despite the work of various agencies.

“We had been delivering services in a way that made no sense to the families,” Bishopp says. “People would go to one service for something and get the support but when they came back to ask for a different thing, the door was shut because it was something that service didn’t address.”

In 2008, the council decided to deploy a “whole family” tactic focused on treating the root causes of social breakdown. The families involved had to be at risk of losing their children, home, liberty or all three.

Under the FRP approach, various public services and voluntary groups share resources, information and expertise, covering children’s social work, health visiting, education, housing, domestic violence, adult mental health and substance misuse. The team of 30 specialists are organised in different combinations to form the team around the family (TAF) depending on the family’s issues.

Each TAF is led by two key workers – one for children, one for adults – who do most of the work with a family. Close working relationships are built between the family and their lead workers who can introduce specialists when it feels right for the family rather than when the system demands it.

It also avoids overloading the family with a multitude of faces and too much information at any one time. “We keep the team around the family as small and uncomplicated as possible,” Bishopp says. “It’s helpful if people can form trusting relationships with appropriate people.”

Family consent to FRP involvement is crucial or else the set up will not work, says Bishopp. Families are involved in the development of their care plan and agree to it before sign-off. They are asked to sign a “contract with consequences” which spells out possible sanctions if a family fails to co-operate. These include parenting orders, care proceedings, antisocial behaviour orders and eviction. Families attend alternate three-weekly reviews with TAF members to discuss progress.

Although the initiative is based on a partnership between the family and their professionals, Bishopp says most families are sceptical when they are referred.

“They’ve usually had many years of public services intervening in their lives against their will,” she says. “But where we’re different is that we focus on what they want to achieve as well as what we need them to do. We give adults the space to look at their needs and aspirations and treat them as people in their own right rather than as parents.”

At the point of a family being accepted on to FRP, the team moves fast.

Within the first week, the family is visited to obtain consent and the information desk begins to pull together data from the agencies that have been involved with the family. Within a fortnight, a care plan is written with input from the family, a small TAF is established and the lead professionals appointed.

“By the time a family has been referred to us, they need action and we don’t want to hang around,” Bishopp says.

In the first six months, lead professionals work with the family over several sessions a week to help bring about change. In the second six months, depending on progress, intensity gradually reduces and contacts with community services are established. Eventually, the case is closed and handed to lower-tier services. For up to two years, families are monitored and fast-tracked back into the programme if necessary.

At an average cost of £19,500 a family. the FRP is not cheap. But Bishopp says it is an investment. An evaluation of the project in its first year shows that for every £1 spent on the FRP, £2.10 in costs are avoided.

But Bishopp points out that it is not all about money. The FRP brings emotional and psychological benefits for children and adults, offering an alternative to a previously dysfunctional situation.

The average size of families taking part in FRP comprises five members so the programme has the potential to reach many people. By November 2010, 123 families had worked with FRP.

“That’s a lot of lives we have touched,” Bishopp says.

Case study: How family of six turned round their lives

The Anderson family* were referred to the Family Recovery Programme by the child protection team. The family – a mother and her five children one of whom had a child of her own – were living in the same home.

Concerns included the mother’s history of alcohol misuse and depression, the children’s antisocial behaviour, poor educational attainment and domestic violence.

Together, the TAF and family agreed on a care plan to address the mother’s depression and alcohol misuse, manage the children’s behaviour, develop the mother’s parenting skills, support the 15- and 16-year-olds back into education, a benefits check and a nursery placement for the three-year-old.

The family made positive progress. The 15-year-old provided good day-to-day care for her baby and became motivated about her own education. The eldest child was supported to move out of the family home because her behaviour was posing a risk to her younger siblings. The mother used parenting advice and support to ensure her children had a consistent routine that included attending school and nursery. She also took a course to help her find work.

FRP is estimated to have avoided an annual spend of £136,000 based on the costs that would have resulted from their behaviour in the 12 months leading up to the intervention, such as care court proceedings and court costs for three children.

*Name has been changed

Programme in numbers

The evaluation of Westminster’s Family Recovery Programme found:

● 69% reduction in “accused offences” of those participating.

● 83% reduction in the average number of “suspected offences” each month.

● 48% of neighbours reported reductions in antisocial behaviour since families registered with the FRP.

● £2.10 is the estimated public purse costs avoided by every £1 of expenditure on the FRP.

● £19,500 is the average cost for each family involved in the FRP.

● £41,000 is the average estimated cost avoidance for each family involved.

● £650,000 is the estimated annual cost of supporting 50 families.

● £2m costs were avoided when 50 families were tracked through the FRP.

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