Troubled families do not just arrive out of nowhere and can it hardly be a surprise to most of us that many families really do find fitting into the world of socially acceptable behaviour, taking responsibility for their own destiny and positively parenting their children so challenging. Bringing up our children successfully and managing our own lives can be daunting for even the most capable person.
So the news that funding and resources to work with troubled families are going to be extended (August 2014) to encompass a wider criteria that includes younger age children as well as health issues can only be applauded.
We all know how difficult it is to change patterns of behaviour; re-establish good health and have positive aspirations for the future once bad habits become entrenched; whether it is an addiction to something that is bad for us or giving up hope that not only can life be better but that as an individual we deserve better.
No parent plans to be a ‘bad’ parent but being a ‘good’ parent is demanding even if you have the skills and knowledge needed; knowing the best way forward to provide a stable loving home in which children can thrive. If your own life has been affected by poor parenting, violence, ill health and disappointments where do you find the courage, tenacity and unconditional love that will help you find your way to becoming the parent your child needs.
The current focus has been on reducing truancy, crime, anti social behaviour, worklessness and domestic violence, all of which have their roots in early childhood, so prevention and early intervention have to be the key to longer term sustainable outcomes that benefit individuals as well as our whole society.
Of those families already being helped by the programme some 71per cent had physical health conditions and for 46 per cent mental health was a feature of daily life. Again poor health has its roots in pre and post natal stage; we know much more now about the effects of attachment disorders, post natal depression and poor nutrition on children’s development. Many victims of domestic violence confirm that abuse begins during pregnancy so that mother and child are emotionally disadvantaged right from the start.
Louise Casey, Head of the Troubled Families programme, talks about a whole family approach and in early years we know that our best outcomes are achieved by working closely with and through the care and education that parents deliver to their children. Whilst positive experiences in nursery, pre school and daycare can do much to offset disadvantage, this has to be in partnership with parents.
But it is too early to celebrate as the resources need to be targeted appropriately and consistently so that the re-thinking public services approach that has been established now encompasses the diversity and flexibility that the early years sector can offer. Let’s not rush out to create a raft of new organisations that will take time to get established and will join the plethora of fingers already in the pie.
How much better to take a deep breath, look at what is working well in each locality and who else can be drawn into the teams to offer the expertise and early years focus that will be needed.
The early years sector has a wealth of provision with a great track record of working with families, such as children’s centres, which are currently struggling due to reduced funding. Some of our largest voluntary sector organisations have always worked with young children and their families, being able to bring flexibility and innovation to the table. Schools are now being given a more central role with leading increased provision for two-year-olds.
If we can successfully link the early years pupil premium, free entitlement for two-year-olds, integrated health and progress checks with the expertise gained from the family nurse partnership initiative plus the wider support of community groups with this troubled families expansion, then perhaps it really will have the life changing potential that our society needs.
The real impact on outcomes for young children currently living within troubled families will require all of us to be clear about what it is we are trying to achieve. What does Closing the Gap and School Readiness mean? How we engage parents, all parents, in feeling that they are at least equal partners in this endeavour and empowering rather than punitive ways of helping them take on this responsibility is key to sustainable changes taking place.
Having skilled staff who can deliver quality services directly to the children as well as managing productive longer term relationships with families is also a key factor. Being able to have those ‘difficult conversations’ with parents; making accurate assessments of need and risks as well as maintaining the belief that positive change is possible in everyone require confident, experienced, trained and well supported staff across all the disciplines.
Those working in the troubled families teams will need to seek out the best early years practioners to work in collaboration with them. Just as the families we are seeking to help are complex and diverse so are the partnerships that we need to develop to create the best opportunities for successful outcomes.