One estimate suggests that over half of all children who are permanently excluded from school in England come from an at-risk family, as do one-in-five young offenders. Complex issues around emotional and physical health, domestic violence and isolation make it difficult for families to start untangling their problems. The cost of these is not purely social, but financial as well – government research estimates the average cost of such families at £75,000 per family per year, most of which is spent as a reaction to their problems rather than as prevention.
Buckinghamshire Council have implemented Families First, an ambitious multi-partner programme to improve outcomes for these families. Our service design team conducted in-depth ethnographic research and found families were overwhelmed by the number of interactions they were having with different services, and that there were a lack of shared priorities between the services and agencies they interacted with. With the help of professionals and the families using the services, we co-designed a new model for family-related services in the county.
This model enables services to work in collaboration with families and each other, and allows frontline staff more freedom to act in families’ interests. It eliminates bureaucracy and gives services more flexibility to integrate and join-up when necessary. Better support empowers families to build the scaffolding required to live independent, secure and fulfilling lives. This model not only aims to break the cycle of disadvantage for families, but to save money through a much more efficient use of funds and a preventative approach.
The Families First model is currently being implemented and will be in place for at least three years, with the aim of reaching and providing transformative, sustainable change for 500 families in that time. Yet the ambition for Families First goes a lot further than these specific families - it is about fundamental change in the way services are organised around the thousands of families who undergo multiple assessments and interventions.