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Troubled Families Programme reduces numbers of children going into care

The Troubled Families Programme has reduced the number of children going into care, analysis has found.

The evaluation of the government programme, which aims to improve outcomes for families, transform local services and provide savings for the taxpayer, found it has had a positive impact on the proportion of looked after children, convictions and custodial sentences, and those claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance.

"The most striking finding is that the programme appears to have reduced the proportion of looked after children: 2.5% of the comparison group were looked after compared to 1.7% of the programme group, a 32% difference for this cohort at 19-24 months after joining the programme," said the analysis of the programme from 2015-2020. "The impact on those on the programme is likely to have huge benefits to children’s lives, contributes to managing children’s social care pressures and provides significant savings."

Case study research also noted that children’s social care services were collaborating with early help teams to reduce the burden on social workers and deliver better outcomes for families.

In relation to crime, the results show that the programme reduced the proportion of adults receiving custodial sentences with 1.6% of the comparison group receiving custodial sentences compared to 1.2% of the programme group, a 25% difference in the 24 months after joining the programme.

The proportion of juveniles receiving custodial sentences was 0.8% of the comparison group receiving custodial sentences compared to 0.5% of the programme group, which represents a 38% difference in the 24 months after joining the programme. For juvenile convictions, 4.6% of the comparison group received custodial sentences compared to 3.9% of the programme group, a 15% difference in the 24 months after joining the programme.

There was no statistically significant difference in the proportion of adult cautions or convictions and juvenile cautions.

Regarding unemployment, the benefits results show a statistically significant difference for adults claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance 19-24 months after joining the programme: 10.5% in the comparison group compared to 9.3% in the progamme group, an 11% difference.

The analysis acknowledged that there were some negative impacts. There were statistically significant differences between the groups in the proportion of children on Child Protection Plans at 7-12 months and 13-18 months. However, at 19-24 months after joining the programme there was no statistically significant difference. The evaluation offers a possible explanation for this finding being that the programme is uncovering unmet need in the early stages of intervention and preventing children becoming Looked After Children. There was no statistically significant difference between the two groups in the proportion of Children in Need after joining the programme.

"There is scope to go further. Staff report access to mental health services and other specialist services as barriers to achieving outcomes with families. However, this evidence shows that the programme is making a significant contribution towards improving life for disadvantaged families compared to previous ways of working," said the report.

The analysis adds that there is a good economic and fiscal case to be made for the programme. The Cost Benefit Analysis, based on the results of the impact analysis, suggests that the programme is providing a net benefit for society. The total net public benefit for the 2017/18 cohort is estimated to be £366m. This suggests every £1 spent on the programme delivers £2.28 of benefits.

Furthermore, the total net fiscal benefit (only budgetary impacts on services)for the 2017/18 cohort is estimated to be £147m. This suggests that every £1 spent on the programme delivers £1.51 of fiscal benefits, although not all of these will be cashable, particularly in the short term.

Case study research and staff survey results provide further evidence that local services are being transformed and that the programme has been successful in driving transformation. There is evidence to suggest families at risk are being identified more proactively and can therefore receive support earlier. However, case study research suggests that earlier in the programme there was a sense that services were still seeing too many families in crisis and that early intervention was not fully integrated into local programmes. There was a noticeable shift seen in this latest research where relevant work was being carried out by services together to identify the families that would benefit from the programme.

"Overall, case study research suggests that the programme is driving earlier intervention by working with families before problems reach crisis but that many families on the programme continue to have multiple complex needs," the report concludes.

Stuart Gallimore, ADCS President, said: “Troubled Families funding pays for a range of things like family coaching, domestic abuse interventions and positive activities for children and young people. Some of the government’s claims to date about the success of the programme have been challenged but I am under no doubt that it is getting real results in lots of local areas. This is a complex area of work, many of the families we work with are facing multiple issues, such as poor mental health, substance misuse and domestic abuse, but the evidence suggests the programme is making a positive difference to the lives of many children and families. Whole family and multi-agency working is also being strengthened. The pressures we face in children’s services are such that much-needed funding for this programme is currently propping up our efforts to act early and offer support before families reach crisis point. The looming cliff edge of this funding ending in 2020 is very real, and very worrying. We need urgent assurances from government about the future of the programme.”

National evaluation of the Troubled Families Programme 2015-2020: Findings

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