Improving outcomes for troubled families in Essex

Since the launch of the governments Troubled Families initiative in 2011, there has been renewed pressure on local authorities to adequately support families with complex needs. The impact of current interventions is often far too low, despite having enormous cost implications for the public sector.

Crucially, families with complex needs are often continuing to live unhappy lives of dependency, while services struggle to keep their heads above water as many families reach crisis point. Current provision often necessitates that services provide expensive interventions in order to combat this, with very little expense devoted to preventing families from reaching this point in the first place. Even conservative estimates give an average cost of £139k per family, with 90% of this coming from reactive interventions. Just 6% of this could be considered as investment in strengthening families.

The Essex Family project sought to harness to underused resources within these families themselves, recognising that, in situations of complex and generational need, co-produced services hold the answer for better outcomes. The project realised that small adjustments to existing services would not be sufficient to address these issues; a radical, system-wide intervention was needed to overhaul services working with complex families.

We worked with four district councils across Essex who were committed to experimenting with radically different models of practice in order to build improved and sustainable services for families. All of the prototypes prioritised a shift in control from individual to family, and from practitioner to service user. They aimed to reduce the demand for expensive and inadequate crisis point interventions, instead focusing on services which worked with families to prevent them ever reaching this point. Essex Family recognised families' assets and support them to improve outcomes for themselves, treating them as active partners in the decision about what would work for them. Each of the interventions also aimed to include the active involvement of community assets.

We provided support to all four sites, including introducing innovation methodologies and tools; facilitating reflection, collation & application of learning; providing support and challenge and critical friendship to all. We supported Essex County Council to shape the programme and drive activity that would really be challenging and different; and to ensure that learning was understood and could then be applied beyond the project, into other areas of policy and delivery.

The project was initiated as a learning process, in which we aimed to take a bold, non-traditional approach to resources, prototyping radical new solutions and interventions which also had the potential to be scalable. 

Essex County Council continues to develop mainstreaming of principles and components – e.g is establishing a new Family Solutions service from Oct 2013 into which aspects of the learning have been woven

If you want to read more about the work across the four sites, check out the Essex Family report.