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Anti-social Behaviour: Family Intervention Projects

Volume 715: debated on Tuesday 8 December 2009


Asked By

My Lords, since 2007, DCSF has collected detailed monitoring information on progress made by every family supported by a family intervention project. We are strengthening the evidence base for FIPs and have recently begun to monitor whether the impact on families is sustained nine to 14 months after they leave the project. Evaluation published in November this year shows significant improvements in outcomes for the families involved.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that positive Answer. Can she say what the cost of these projects is and whether there is an estimate of how much they might save in the prevention of anti-social behaviour?

My Lords, we know that the families targeted to be part of this project are often in receipt of significant investment from public services. The average cost of running a family intervention project can be around £8,000 to £20,000 per family, but the overall cost of the different statutory interventions for families such as those involved in a FIP can be anything between £250,000 and £350,000 per year. Therefore, we can see that the family intervention project is very cost-effective.

My Lords, the Minister seems to be indicating that this is a successful project, even though we are at the beginning of the evaluation. If it proves to be the success that she is indicating, will she consider encouraging other groups to use this holistic social work approach with other families? I think particularly of those families where there is a likelihood of breakdown and of children being received into care. Bearing in mind that the number of children before the courts has risen by 50 per cent this year compared with last year—I declare an interest as the chair of CAFCASS—does she not feel that this might save substantial funds and give those children a better life?

I agree wholeheartedly with the noble Baroness. It is important to remember that such significant cost benefits come about in part because the families that we target through family intervention projects have an extremely intense need. They may be very chaotic and in receipt of a wide range of services and they may be having quite a detrimental impact on their communities, so we can make a big difference by bringing in the family intervention project. The noble Baroness is right that one of the real success factors of the project is the approach of looking at the whole family—the extended family—and not trying to address the needs of an individual family member. The project looks at how the family works together and wraps around services in a coherent and determined way.

My Lords, can the Minister confirm my hope that this project has absolutely nothing to do with brainwashing little girls who wish to wear pink and disallowing them from ever wearing such colours?

My Lords, that is a very interesting question. I think that I can fairly say that family intervention projects do not concern themselves with the colour of the attire of the children involved but are much more concerned about getting kids up and dressed and back to school. They make sure that parents are capable of parenting their children and can address the support needs of, say, a teenager who might be going off the rails. Family intervention projects are about ensuring that families can do the best for themselves.

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that, among families where there have been substantial anti-social behaviour problems, the evaluation shows a reduction from 40 per cent to 6 per cent in those problems? Given the dedication of this Government to joined-up thinking, can she also tell me why they did not think about putting this holistic programme together very much earlier?

The noble Baroness is helpfully highlighting the successful outcome of the family intervention project. I shall add some further background. For example, we found that cases of domestic violence involving families who had been through the project fell from 22 per cent to 9 per cent. That is an important impact. The family intervention project is specific intervention involving a determined key worker—in some cases, an ex-police officer—who embraces the family, gets services to work together and drives forward behavioural change. This specific intervention has been developed by Action for Children since 1995. We are very pleased that the results have been well evaluated and we can see a read-across into such things as the family nurse partnership and specialist drug and alcohol courts.

If a grandparent is involved, what extra support might they expect? More generally, where grandparents are having to take on the parenting role, what support is there for them? For example, is there support if there are immediate costs in adapting a house to take in children?

The family intervention project embraces the whole family, which includes grandparents and extended family members. Often the grandparents provide the kind of stability and support that sometimes is not present in chaotic families. It is essential that the “think family” approach is adopted locally and across the board. There is much more that we can do as a society and a Government to support grandparents in that role and I hope that we will be able to say more about that in the coming weeks.

My Lords, I shall return to the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Knight of Collingtree, if I may. Does the Minister agree that her friend Harriet Harman was talking absolute rubbish when she said that girls should not be brought up in pink clothes and boys in blue clothes? I say that because it is only when they get older that boys wear pink clothes—as I do with my pink shirt—with equanimity.

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Earl looks very dashing in his pink shirt or pink tie. The right honourable Harriet Harman was making a serious point about how to ensure that we as parents give girls the best possible opportunities and do not stereotype them into for ever taking a passive and pink role in life. Having brought up a daughter, I think that it is extremely important that we make sure that girls have a chance to play with trucks and trains and to wear blue if they look pretty in blue. We should not define how young people are looked after by the colour of their toys.