Norfolk already hard at work on government’s Troubled Families Programme
Just over two months ago, Norfolk became one of biggest financial beneficiaries of the government's Troubled Families Programme.
It means the county is set to receive the ninth highest amount of funding in the country to implement a raft of changes which will lead to more support for the area's most vulnerable mothers, fathers and children.
What is also means is that Norfolk was identified as the area with the ninth highest number of troubled families.
And as organisations across the country get to work, the team behind the programme knows a double-dip recession is only going to make the task harder as those families find everyday life more and more difficult to negotiate.
County council children's services is quick to stress the programme is not about people who are 'in trouble' or 'troublesome'.
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Norfolk programme co-ordinator Nicky Dawson said: 'It's for those families who are really unhappy. There are things going on that are not how they would like them to be, not what they would like their family to be going through.
'It's for families who feel troubled themselves, who are anxious and worried.'
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The programme is entirely voluntary and only those families who want to get involved and get the support will do so.
Yesterday the government announced plans to expand the scheme so that every eligible council in the country will be involved in supporting around 120,000 families.
But in Norfolk work is already under way to help the 1,700 most vulnerable and troubled families in the county.
While some of those families have already been identified, and may already be receiving help, Norfolk County Council is in the process of working out who else would benefit from the support.
The families may feel troubled because of unemployment, crime or anti-social behaviour, truancy by children, long-term health problems, alcohol or drug misuse, or a wide range of other issues which make their lives more difficult to live.
The programme is worth �4m in up-front money from the government which will be handed out over three years to help fund projects. Already �1.5m has been transferred over to the county council.
A payment-by-results scheme could top that up to a total of �5.6m if the authority can show it is meeting a combination of targets – set according to each family's needs – which could include helping a parent back to work or helping to address health problems.
The programme also requires 60pc match-funding from the county which can come in the form of a cash contribution or funding 'in kind' including the use of resources and buildings.
According to Mrs Dawson, the total investment will be significant. 'Potentially, the programme could be worth perhaps �15m,' she said.
A raft of organisations, including the police, the health service, district and borough councils, housing associations and the voluntary sector are already involved and are keen to offer ideas and support.
It is a sign they know how valuable the programme could be to both the families involved and the many services they rely upon.
Simon Bailey, Norfolk Police deputy chief constable, said: 'Dealing with those families that require additional support makes up a significant proportion of our work, and by giving them this targeted assistance we can improve their lives and the quality of life for our communities, and reduce the number of future interventions that are required.'
The five existing Family Intervention Projects (FIP), run across Norfolk since 2006, saw about �18,500 spent on each family it supported in 2010/11 and is thought to have led to an average annual saving of �88,480 per family.
But for those entering the service this year, the benefits are expected to be even greater because of the impact the tough economic climate is having on them.
Mrs Dawson said: 'People are coming in with even more substantial problems. Those problems are even more severe than they were even just 18 months ago.'
Because of that, it is estimated support for troubled families could save a staggering �140,000 per family per year.
The troubled families team is now hard at work trying to develop the kind of services that will help mothers and fathers across the county.
Mrs Dawson said: 'It feels like this work we've been doing, it's all led up to this point where we are now ready to work with families in very different ways.
'We've been thinking, planning, and not having the money to pilot anything so we can try out our ideas.'
Some of the work will be focused around simplifying the processes troubled families have to go through, with some of them currently dealing with up to 14 separate organisations in their search for support.
The county council, in conjunction with other groups including the police, the NHS, and district councils, will also look at existing services that are already having a positive impact – like the Family Intervention Projects – and look to improve them or make them capable of helping even more people.
But the troubled families team wants the families themselves to ultimately determine what changes need to be made and decide where the money should be spent.
'The families themselves will be involved in designing, or redesigning, the services.
'Our hope is that will mean the services will be more accessible, be more co-ordinated and families will find it easier to refer themselves to them,' said the programme co-ordinator.
Some of the savings made through helping those families, along with any 'cash by results' funding received by the council, could then be used to keep the new and improved services going.
The ultimate aim is to create a network of services that will not only help the 1,700 families linked to this programme but will also ensure the support – and critically the early intervention – needed is there for years to come.
'We want to be able to identify families who may be struggling a lot earlier so they don't escalate to become troubled families.
'Once we have helped those 1,700 families, we don't want more to come through and fill that gap,' said Mrs Dawson.