Well Louise Casey, Head of the governments new Troubled Families Unit has been busy, talking to twelve families up and down the land and in the process discovering some things that she found surprising and apparently that 'are not pretty'. I suppose this might have something to do with what a commentator to the Guardian so succinctly put:-
"Never done a proper frontline job....promoted way beyond her competence and expertise...arrogant and ignorant in equal measure...joined various organisations at a senior level...without proper domain knowledge....headhunted and talent managed and now she can screw up vulnerable families ...inequality in action"
Of course she hasn't discovered anything that has not been well known to the probation service since we were founded in 1907. Our social work roots were established for good reason and for decades officers continued to do battle with other agencies of the state in order to try and improve the lives of their charges and their families. Surely I can't be the only person to make a connection between our move away from welfare-orientated work with clients, and the apparent rise in numbers of problem families in recent years and their seemingly intractable situations? It was politicians of course that told us that we were no longer a social work agency, but instead a law enforcement agency. Not only were we told to change our ethos, we were also told to retreat from the communities we used to serve and instead entrench in distant and anonymous office complexes.
I also see a certain irony in Louise Casey championing a fund of £448 million pounds, half of which will be used to reward local authorities on a Payment by Results basis, basically to provide services and support that families should have been receiving anyway. As all probation officers and youth offending teams will know only too well, it is often the intransigence and inflexibility of housing, education and social service officials that compound families difficulties and militate against efforts to improve situations. I notice that she has particularly identified the issue of child sex abuse and it's often inter-generational nature, but I can assure her that trying to get the NHS to provide skilled counselling or family therapy in such situations is nye impossible.
Without doubt it is a very sad state of affairs when an estimated 120,000 'problem' families cost the state approaching £9 billion, but with seemingly very little benefit to show for it either in relation to the families concerned, or wider society. But in my view this situation was entirely avoidable because the state used to have a specialised arm that was intimately involved with virtually all these families and hence were in an unrivalled position to take a holistic approach to each, based on an absolute wealth of experience and information. I used to naively believe that any sensible government would listen to this grass roots branch of the state and make social policy decisions grounded on such frontline and informed advice. But it was not to be and in relation to this troubled group the Probation Service has been systematically ignored, local support structures dismantled and staff de-skilled and marginalised in the process.
Just to conclude this rant, I have to say I find this piece of news astonishing and yet another sign of the direction of travel we find ourselves on under successive governments:-
It is perhaps possible that the troubled families unit may work where others failed because ministers have agreed to suspend the privacy of poor households. For the first time, local councils will be allowed "without informed consent" to access benefit records. The idea is to build up a map of troubled families – which will be shared with other agencies such as the police, GPs and housing associations.
Casey, a self-confessed Guardian reader, believes that, for all the liberal hand-wringing over the prospect of a too-powerful state assaulting civil liberties, more lives are blighted by the erosion of authority than by its extension. "We need to find out what is happening in relation to all of the data. I don't think that is about someone's civil rights. I think it's about their right to get help and the system's right to challenge them to take it."
That's just what we need - another control freak.