This briefing examines the Troubled Families Programme (TFP), its impact, recent commentary and the future prospects for the programme. The TFP only ran in England, overseen by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and run locally by top-tier local authorities through a multi-agency approach.

Troubled Families Programme 2012 to 2015

The first phase of the TFP ran from 2012 to 2015 at a cost of £448 million allocated to local authorities based on the number of families they worked with and the results they achieved with the aim of ‘turning around’ the lives of 120,000 troubled families by May 2015. The typical ‘troubled family’ on the first phase of the programme consisted of:

  • Just under half had a lone parent and over a third had three or more children;
  • Just under a third had one or more adults in employment, with just under half included at least one adult claiming out-of-work benefits.
  • A third had a ‘child in need’ in the previous 12 months.
  • Just over a tenth had a child who had received a caution or conviction in the previous 12 months and around 17% families had an adult in a similar position.
  • Nearly all rented their homes and 80% of the families were White British.

The method by which local authorities worked with these families was not prescribed, but a ‘family intervention approach’ was encouraged by which a nominated key worker was assigned to each family to gain an understanding of the family’s issues and needs and to draw up an action plan.

MHCLG claimed that 99% of the 117,910 families identified had been successfully “turned around”, which as a minimum meant that: truanting and absent children had returned to school and had high levels of attendance over three consecutive terms; significant reductions were made in youth crime and anti-social behaviour; and an adult previously on benefits was in continuous employment for three months or was “making progress to work”. Of the 152 local authorities, 137 claimed 100% success rates and only two had a success rate below 90%. It was estimated £1.2 billion had been saved which worked out as a gross saving of £2.11 for every £1 spent, but MHCLG conceded that this could not be directly attributed to the programme.

In 2016 the Public Accounts Committee concluded that that MHCLG had “overstated” the success of the programme and had not demonstrated “genuine” financial savings. MHCLG conceded that its measurement for savings should be improved and would work to address this and adopt a new terminology for the next phase of the programme. The subsequent independent programme evaluation was unable to find consistent evidence that it had any significant or systematic impact on employment, benefits, and school attendance, safeguarding and child welfare outcomes. It did find families consistently reporting that they knew how to keep their family on the right track, felt more in control of things, confident that their worst problems were behind them, and felt positive about the future.

Troubled Families Programme from 2015

The second phase of the programme commenced from 2015-16 was due to run until 2020, but has been extended twice, most recently in the 2020 Spending Review until March 2022.

A number of changes were made in the programme’s design. The new scheme aimed to work with 400,000 families, compared to 120,000, to achieve either “significant and sustained progress” against all problems facing the family or for an adult to secure continuous employment, rather than to “turn around families”. The payment-by-results model now plays a smaller role, with spot checks and data scrutiny over whether families are eligible for the programme, that local practices are following the whole family approach and to validate outcomes. Changes were also made in evaluating the programme involving tracking outcomes over a longer five-year period after intervention rather than just at 18 months, as was the case for the first evaluation.

Significantly the context changed, notably the rising demand for children’s social care. Consequently whilst the initial programme was targeted at families involved in crime and anti-social behaviour, children who were out of school and adults who were out of work. The second phase was expanded to add children needing help, families experiencing domestic abuse and families with physical and/or mental health problems, including substance misuse.

The current programme design is broadly based on the first phase and from the various local family intervention projects which preceded the TFP. Although it is delivered differently in different local authority areas, it is based on a common theory of change, involving whole family and multi-agency working, a focus on early intervention, outcomes and upon data to ensure families get the right interventions at the right time. To claim families as having worked with the programme, local authorities must:

  • Undertake an assessment that takes into account the needs and voice of the whole family.
  • Produce a family action plan that takes account of all (relevant) family members, aligned to the authority’s Troubled Families Outcomes Plan.
  • Appoint a lead/key worker assigned to the family that is recognised by the family and other professionals involved with the family.

Programme funding

A total of £1.25 billion of funding has been committed to March 2022, including £165 million allocated for 2021-22 through 2020 Spending Review. Each local authority receives: an annual Service Transformation Grant (most receive £200,000 each year) to support local delivery of the programme; an upfront £1,000 attachment fee for each family with whom they agree to work; and an £800 results payment for each family with whom they achieve an outcome.

Since 2017 the ten councils across Greater Manchester city-region have received their TFP funding upfront as part of devolved arrangements through a single-pot thereby enabling a shared accountability model. From early 2018, 14 additional local authorities across the country moved also to a new up-front funding model (called the ‘earned autonomy model’) in order to test whether a different funding approach would speed up service reform and delivery of whole family working, rather than submitting payment-by-results claims. These and the councils across Greater Manchester still track and report on successful family outcomes.

In additional the programme’s Supporting Families Against Youth Crime fund has provided £9.5 million of additional funding over 2018/19 and 2019/20, to support additional activity to address youth crime and knife crime in places of high need.

The programme’s strategic aims

The programme has three aims:

  • To achieve significant and sustained progress with up to 400,000 families with multiple, high-cost problems by 2020 and make work an ambition for all troubled families.
  • To transform the way that public services work with families with multiple problems to take an integrated, ‘whole family approach’ and to help reduce demand for reactive services.
  • To demonstrate that this way of working results in lower costs and savings for the taxpayer.

Who is the programme targeted at?

To be eligible for the programme, each family must include dependent children and/or (since June 2020) expected parents and have at least two of the following six problems:

  • Parents or children involved in crime or anti-social behaviour.
  • Children who have not been attending school regularly.
  • Children who need additional support, from the earliest years to adulthood.
  • Families experiencing or at risk of worklessness, homelessness or financial difficulties.
  • Families affected by domestic abuse.
  • Parents and children with a range of physical and mental health needs.

Local authorities are encouraged to prioritise families with multiple problems who are most likely to benefit from a whole family approach and who incur the highest cost to the taxpayer. Eligibility was extended to expectant parents in June 2020, with the update programme financial framework (published in April) also encouraging local authorities to prioritise families affected by child sexual exploitation, gang and knife crime and at risk of homelessness.

Family Characteristics

Most families have either two or three problems (31% and 27% respectively), only a small proportion have five or six of the programme’s six headline problems (8%), see list above. The most common problem was children needing help (88%) followed by worklessness (58%) and then, health (48%).

Source: Improving families’ lives: Annual report of the Troubled Families Programme 2019-2020 – June 2020, MHCLG.

A significant proportion of families face common combination of problems, for example 28% met both the children needing help and the worklessness/financial exclusion criteria, and 24% met the children in need and the health criteria. The majority face a wide range of different combinations of problems, which to MHCLG indicates that the programme should continue to respond to the individual needs of each family.

Source: Improving families’ lives: Annual report of the Troubled Families Programme 2019-2020 – June 2020, MHCLG.

The characteristics of the families on the second phase of programme:


  • Over two thirds of adults were female and around four fifths of individuals were white.
  • Families on the programme were typically larger, contained more dependent children, were more likely to have a lone parent and have a child aged under-five (just under half) than families in the general population.

Employment and welfare:

  • In the year before joining the programme over half (56%) of all families had made at least one benefit claim (compared to 11% of the general population).
  • Over a third (36%) of adults were, in-work (compared to three-quarters of the working age population) and just under a third (31%) of families had no adults in work.


  • Around a third of families had a child who was persistently absent from school. Children on the programme are five times more likely to be permanently excluded from school.
  • Children were twice as likely to be classed as having a special educational need.
  • Only a quarter received five A*-C grades at GCSE, including English and maths, compared to the national average of 54%.

Social care:

  • Around third (32%) were classed as a ‘child in need’ (in the 12 months before joining the programme) compared to 3% nationally.
  • Children in these families were over 12 times more likely to be on a Child Protection Plan (4.9%).


  • 42% of families had at least one individual with a mental health issue, and 16% had an individual dependent on drugs or alcohol.

Crime and disorder:

  • 6% of adults had received a caution or conviction, compared to 0.5% nationally (in the year before starting the programme). The figures for children were 2.5%, compared to 0.4% nationally.
  • Over a fifth (22%) of families had been involved in a domestic abuse incident and 8% had an anti-social incident in the 12 months before joining the programme.

How is success defined?

Success is judged to be achieving “significant and sustained progress” against all problems identified for each family or where an adult in the family has moved into continuous employment (i.e. six months or 13 weeks under the Employment Support Allowance/Income Support). How “significant and sustained” progress is defined for all families is agreed locally and set out in a Troubled Families Outcomes Plan. In the case of school attendance the benchmark has been set nationally that to make a financial claim all children in the family must have been attending school for an average of at least 90% across three consecutive terms.

Improving family outcomes

By April 2020, the TFP had funded local areas to work with 399,960 families: 350,105 had reported (at least one or more) successful outcomes. Of these only 320,032 families (80% of the families worked with) made “significant and sustained progress” against all their problems and (in addition) 30,073 families had adults who moved into sustained employment (7.5%). (Local authorities have reported that they are working in a ‘whole family approach’ with at least 700,000 families in total, the excess outside TFP funding). Successful family outcomes figures are not measured against a comparison meaning that it is not possible to assess how many of those outcomes are a result of participation in the programme. Successful outcomes for each local authority area can be found here (see Annex A).

Overall 87% of local TFP co-ordinators felt the programme has been “effective at achieving long term positive change in families’ circumstance”, when surveyed in 2018, a similar proportion concluded that the programme was effective at achieving a focus on early intervention. Half felt it was being effective at reducing demand for statutory services, and a third that it was delivering savings.

Children in need and looked after children

MHCLG say the programme “appears” to have reduced the proportion of looked-after-children by almost a third (32%) when compared to the matched comparison group (equivalent to a 0.8 percentage point reduction). There was a negative impact on Child Protection Plans, focused upon the early and middle periods of being attached to the programme, where it is believed that local teams are uncovering need at an earlier stage than would otherwise be the case, increasing the number of children on plans, but preventing them becoming looked after children. This is consistent with staff surveys where 90% of TFP key workers believe the programme to be successful in helping families avoid statutory interventions, with the programme felt to enhance the quality and capacity of children’s social care. However, no statistical change was achieved in the proportion of Children in Need after joining the programme, who represent almost a third (31.8%) of children attached to the programme.

Crime and anti-social behaviour

The programme also appears to have had a positive impact on offending outcomes for those families with a recent criminal history. The majority of adults (78%) and juveniles (74%) who had been convicted or given a custodial sentence before they joined the programme had improved offending outcomes. (Note it is not possible to say this was a result of participation in the TFP, as it is not measured against a comparison group). When compared to the comparison group the programme has reduced by a quarter the number of adults receiving custodial sentences with a larger 38% decrease for juveniles, and a 15% decrease in juvenile convictions (two years after joining the programme). There was no statistical significance difference in the proportion of adult cautions or convictions and juvenile cautions. The family surveys picked up there have been fewer reports of contact with the police, use of force or violence within the home and action to stop anti-social behaviour. MHCLG believe that in many cases these positive results may be due to addressing underlying causes of criminality rather than addressing the issue specifically.

Domestic violence and abuse

However, in other areas the programme has not shown clear signs of success, for instance there was no significant change in overall levels of reported domestic abuse or violence. Key workers offer practical support such as fitting security systems and securing legal support for obtaining protective orders, liaising with victim support officers and supporting families (where they need) to find a new home and help them settle in. The case study research suggested to MHCLG that domestic abuse is sometimes entrenched with repeated patterns of behaviour that people struggle to see a way of escaping.

School attendance

Whilst the family surveys provided some evidence of positive changes with reported concerns significantly falling, no clear trend was found in the proportion of children being persistently absent from school. Improvements were found concerning family morning and bedtime routines (in three-quarters of families) and positivity about the effectiveness of helping getting their children to school; however this has not been turned into hard and consistent positive outcomes in reducing truancy.


There was a statistically significant 11% decrease in adults claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance (19-24 months after joining the programme) compared with the control group (9.3% compared with 10.5%). There was no difference for adults claiming Employment and Support Allowance (or Income Support): around a quarter of families claim ESA.

MHCLG claim that the programme is making work an ambition for all families by building confidence and skills and finding employment, work experience and training opportunities however this is not reaching the bar of sustained employment. At the same time, fewer of those who are unemployed are actively looking for work, and over half (55%) continue to live in a workless household. Mental health issues are cited as the most common barrier to work for TFP claimants. This is despite the programme being well resourced in this area with the Department for Work and Pensions providing a network of around 300 work coaches to act as Troubled Families Employment Advisors based in local authorities. Financial exclusion continues to be an issue, with two-thirds (66%) of TFP families still having a net household income below £12,500 a year.

Mental and physical health

The lack of access to health data means that MHCLG are not able to fully evaluate the impact of the programme. Still the family survey shows that although visits to GPs and A&E remain high, cohort families “are significantly less likely” to have made multiple visits. Fewer households contain at least one person with a long-standing illness or disability (73% compared to 77%), and fewer main carers report signs of probable mental ill health. Nonetheless, the proportion reporting that their own health was ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’ has not changed significantly, and overall levels of well-being are also unchanged.

Improved access to mental health services was seen as an important step in marking the programme more effective for service transformation. Fifty-seven per cent of key workers saw this as a top priority – a consistent position over recent years.

Improvements made to service quality

The second of the three strategic aims of TFP is to transform the way that public services work with families with multiple problems and to help reduce demand for reactive services.

Early Intervention

A shift to earlier intervention had led to greater identification of need and preventive interventions, with a high degree of positivity (86%) from TFP local coordinators about the programme’s effectiveness in achieving a focus on early intervention. The principles underpinning the programmes such as early intervention, prevention and identifying risk “are being sufficiently integrated into service planning, with second phase services having a better picture of families’ needs and referral routes than in the first phase of the programme…”. Still, key workers found it challenging working with families with entrenched behaviours such as substance misuse, domestic abuse and long-term unemployment and dependence on benefits.

Focus on outcomes and intelligence

There had been improvements in data systems and data sharing, leading to progress in identifying families that require support, and aiding service coordination across agencies. Good practice has been identified on sharing case management systems, using data sharing agreements to establish the legal basis for sharing data and to demonstrate GDPR compliance. Other good practice seen includes standardised outcomes plans and assessment frameworks and signposting of referral routes across local agencies. However, barriers still persist with data management varying across the country with partners like schools and GP practices being reluctant to share data, partners being concerned about GDPR compliance across local partner organisations and costly and time-consuming harmonisation of IT systems.

Whole family working

There has been consistent high positivity from TFP co-ordinators towards achieving whole family working which is being adopted by additional partner services underpinned by increasing confidence in children’s social care, youth offending teams and health visitors having the necessary skills outside their traditional remit; but challenges remain particularly with police and housing. Key workers were viewed over the four years of the case study research as being “trusted, supportive professionals” providing “a firm, challenging, non-judgmental and consistent point of contact”.

Key workers felt the families being worked with could easily become overwhelmed when dealing with many different professionals, stressing the importance of having a single point of contact to ensure clear communication and focused intervention. Effective co-ordination of other professionals was seen as a good way in which to build trust with families, because key workers ensured that other services were following through on their commitments to the family, particularly among those families who had negative experiences of working with statutory services in the past.

Multi-agency working

MHCLG claim that the programme’s principles have become embedded in the wider system of agency working. Seventy-eight per cent of TFP co-ordinators say it has influenced their approach to commissioning services more widely, with the programme itself being increasingly delivered by other lead professionals from across local public services rather than dedicated TFP workers and supported by physical collocation, harmonising computer systems and data management systems, locality team meetings and the adoption of common assessment and outcome plans.

However, MHCLG note that more can be done: none of the case study areas were considered fully ‘mature’ according to the standards set out in the service transformation maturity model. Barriers to joint working remain regarding: lack of physical co-location; implementing data sharing systems; different working patterns hindering multi-disciplinary meetings; and with some collaboration dependent on individual relationships rather than embedded between organisations. Access to specialist services particularly mental health services for both adults and children (due to capacity issues) and housing services, were cited as a problem to achieving family outcomes.

Economic benefits

MHCLG estimates that the economic benefits (including all economic, social and fiscal benefits) from the programme (for the 2017-18 cohort) to be £366 million, meaning that every £1 spent on the programme delivers £2.28 of benefits. Focusing on fiscal benefits alone (i.e. producing savings for service budgets) is estimated to be £147 million, suggesting that for every £1 spent delivers £1.51 of benefits, although not all of these will be cashable, particularly in the short term.

MHCLG say these figures may underestimate the impact of the programme, firstly as some impacts on domestic abuse, homelessness and mental health and well-being were not established, and secondly because benefits were only considered over a five-year horizon, even though benefits to young children might continue to have an effect for a number of years.

How is the programme having a positive effect?

MHCLG’s hypothesis is that there are two “relatively distinct” mechanisms by which the TFP is having an impact with two different groups of families:

  • Providing support alongside existing public services (e.g. children’s social care) with families with entrenched complex needs. The role of key workers is seen as important in coordinating multiple services, working across families’ multiple needs and addressing some of the underlying problems that statutory services struggle to deal with, such as anti-social behaviour.
  • Intervention with families who have lower identified needs and less contact with statutory services to stop problems getting worse. MHCLG believe that the TFP is working effectively with families that have unmet needs or their problems are at risk of getting worse. This has been evidenced through an increase in the proportion of children on Child Protection Plans concentrated amongst those who were not previously in the child social care system, suggesting that the TFP is effectively identifying at-risk families and ensuring that they get help and support. There are also indications that local programmes may be preventing escalation to children’s social care, with TFP key workers reporting that families remained with their service rather than moving up to social care.

The future of the Programme

The second phase of the programme was due to end in March 2020. Originally its future beyond that date was to be decided in the 2019 Spending Review. That didn’t happen as a multi-year comprehensive review was postponed due to the Brexit crisis. Still the programme benefited from a one year extension to its funding for 2020-21, worth £165 million. The subsequent December 2019 Conservative Manifesto indicated that the programme had a future beyond that date, stating that:

“A strong society needs strong families. We will improve the Troubled Families Programme and champion Family Hubs to serve vulnerable families with intensive, integrated support they need to care for children”.

Again it was signalled that the postponed comprehensive spending review – again postponed twice to autumn 2020 – would determine the future of the programme. Again due to the pandemic, the multi-year review was also turned into a one year review which provided a further £165 million to extend the programme to 2021-22.

What are the calls about a successor programme?

In the meantime there have been a number of calls notably from the Children’s Commissioner for England, and the Association of Directors Children’s Services (ADCS) for a long term financial strategy for the programme. In terms of the form that a future programme should take, there have been a number of different calls, including:

The Children’s Commissioner (see also here) has called for the next phase to be expanded to 500,000 families and reshaped to have more of a focus on early years as part of a new, cross-department strategy to support children’s development in the early years. This would set out how the TFP would work together with other Government programmes such as the Healthy Child Programme, Early Years Foundation Stage and Children’s Centres and Family Hubs, operating under a single outcomes framework.

ADCS have called for the TFP to evolve into a more comprehensive, and sustainable-funded, all-age prevention strategy so families receive support at the earliest opportunity from a multi-agency workforce that can meet the multifaceted needs of both children and parents, spanning early years to youth work. As well as early years, ADCS explicitly refer to the distinct needs of young people and the “vital” youth work services to support these needs.

The County Councils Network (CCN) wants the next phase of the programme to be incorporated into a National Framework for Early Intervention for young people, though not exclusively around early years and family support. They want the Government to avoid using a ring-fenced grant and the payment-by-results mechanism and instead create incentives for spending on preventative approaches through a “menu” of early intervention priorities.

The Local Government Association has expressed support for the continuation of the programme, but has focused on calling for additional funding which could be used to strengthen universal and early help services by returning the level of the Early Intervention Grant to 2010-11 levels, by providing an extra £1.7 billion (the grant was worth £1.1 billion in 2018-19).

In the programme’s 2020 Annual Report MHCLG said that some specific findings would “feed into discussions about the design of a successor programme”, suggesting that there will be one. Notably, that the TFP had been effective for both families already in touch with services and families whose needs had not been identified before they start the programme, working best through providing support alongside existing public services to families who have entrenched, complex needs and intervening with families who have lower identified needs and less contact with statutory services.

In 2019 the then local government minister and now Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak described (to the MHCLG Select Committee) the elements of the programme he wanted to see carried forward. He cited the mixed form of funding (involving block grant, an attachment fee and payment-by-results) and the emphasis on whole-family working. He also referred to a new element, which has been debated in various circles, that more of the support should be targeted at the “very early stage of young children’s lives, from conception to two years old.”

This might be a nod to the review commissioned by the Prime Minister, led by Andrea Leadsom MP, into improving health outcomes in babies and young children. The review is looking at reducing inequalities in young children from birth to age 2-and-a-half – the first 1001 days – as part of the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda, considering the barriers that impact on early-years development, including social and emotional factors and early childhood experiences. The review follows the work (during 2018 and 2019) of a ministerial group on family support, led by Andrea Leadsom when she was in government, whose recommendations remained unpublished. Rishi Sunak was a member of that group (when he was local government minister).

Rishi Sunak also referred to the possibility of changing the name of the programme, something which has been discussed before, pointing out that many local TFP use local branding that do not refer to ‘troubled families’. The CCN has also called for the programme to be renamed and rebranded to make the programme “less stigmatising and more inclusive” using positive language such as ‘strengthening’ or ‘supporting’ families to better articulate the aims of preventative approaches.


The original Troubled Families programme was born from the riots which swept major inner cities across England over five days in August 2011. The riots generated significant debate about the causes and context in which they happened including racial tension, economic decline and the unemployment that decline had brought and the austerity policies of the then Coalition Government. The immediate response of the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, was to bring out his 2010 election campaign banner of a ‘Broken Britain’ attributing the riots to the UK’s “moral collapse” characterised by “irresponsibility, selfishness, behaving as if your choices have no consequences, children without fathers, schools without discipline, reward without effort, crime without punishment, rights without responsibilities”.

Just four months later the Troubled Families Programme was launched aimed at intensive support but the political rhetoric was still often pejorative. Louise Casey, the ‘Troubled Families Tsar’ told the Daily Telegraph a year after the riots that: “We are not running some cuddly social workers programme … we should be talking about things like shame and guilt … we have lost the ability to be judgmental because we worry about being seen as nasty to poor people”.

However, the majority of the families targeted were not involved in crime nor anti-social behaviour or indeed alcohol or drug dependent. Most are poor, unemployed and with very high levels of mental and physical illnesses: fewer than 5% of adults and only 2.5% of children on the TFP have received a caution or a conviction, only 8% of families had an antisocial behaviour incident, in the 12 months before joining the TFP and only 10% have an individual dependent on alcohol or drugs.

The successions of ministers who have overseen the programme in recent years have accepted that the title of the programme is a hindrance and not appropriate: while the families are indeed ‘troubled’ by poverty and ill-heath (etc.) in the main they are not causing trouble for anyone else. The expectation is any successor programme will be branded in a more inclusive way.

The efficacy of the first phase of the programme was widely called into question and has been the subject of much investigation and exposure by the media, parliament and academia. Some in defence of both central and local government put the unbelievable (and self-certified) near hundred per cent success rate down to “teething problems”. More likely as commented at the time it was down to “cash-strapped councils understandably had an incentive to identify the exact number of ‘troubled’ families the government told them they had on their patch and work out ways to claim that they had been turned around.” The Public Accounts Committee concluded the programme’s success had been “overstated” on the basis of short-term outcomes rather than “long-term, sustainable change in families’ lives”, while £1.2 billion of claimed savings was considered an overstatement; based on an official evaluation which was “unable to find consistent evidence” that the programme had any significant impact.

How has the second phase performed?

Whilst the efficacy of the first phase of the programme was widely called into question the second phase seems to have been producing more credible results; though whether it has been an overwhelming success is still a matter of debate.

First, MHCLG claim that 350,000 out of the 399,960 families attached to the programme (up to 5 April 2020) have experienced positive outcomes. That is not deemed to be ‘success’ under the programme as it means that these families have achieved at least one but not necessarily all the outcomes in their personal action plan. The second figure of 320,032 relates to the families who have made “significant and sustained progress” against all the outcomes in their plan. That does not mean they have achieved them all but have made enough progress against their plan for the local authority to earn a payment-by-results payment. In addition 30,073 families have gained continuous employment – which also triggers a results payment. We lack the detailed data to interrogate further, but point out – as have MHCLG – that given these outcomes are not measured against a comparison group, we do not know how many of those outcomes have been achieved as a direct result of the programme. It is difficult to compare area to area, as what constitutes “significant and sustained progress”, save on school attendance (where we do not the figures) and on employment, is set locally. On employment there appears to some variation with 103 authorities reporting less than 10% of families had moved into sustained employment; the highest was Liverpool, at 41%.

Second, even where a statistical and comparable positive impact has been found through the programme’s evaluation, this needs to be put into context of the small number of families involved. The programme has helped to reduced the proportion of children going into care (i.e. becoming looked after) by a third; the proportion of adults going to prison by a quarter, juvenile convictions have reduced by 15%, and the number of people claiming Job Seekers Allowance by 10%. However as pointed out by the academic and TFP critic Dr Stephen Crossley these results relate to a very small number of families on the programme: less than 5% a had child subject to a Children Protection Plan, whilst there was no impact on reducing the much higher number of ‘children in need’ who are found in almost third (31.8%) of TFP families and represent 40% of all children covered by the programme.

Similarly the conviction and custodial sentence results also relate to very small numbers – less than 5% of adults and 2.5% of children – and there was no significant difference in the number of adult cautions and convictions. The reduction of people claiming Job Seekers Allowance affected only 10% of adults on the programme, and the results were not matched by any reductions in those claiming Employment and Support Allowance who represent some 40% of TFP families. At the same time the programme has made little difference to people’s health and well-being, their experience of domestic abuse and violence and there was no clear pattern of improvement in school attendance.

Finally, a common criticism of the TFP is that it does not effectively address the structural issues which face ‘troubled families’: the quantity and quality of available local jobs for those in and out of work, educational attainment and the increasing levels of child poverty including for families in-work. Rather the focus has been on moving people off out-of-work benefits, but not the quality of work secured as a result, or securing in-work progression for those already in low-paid jobs. Similarly the desire of the government to improve school attendance is not matched by an ambition to improve the school experience and educational attainment for the child.

So after eight years, what has the programme achieved? It has provided local authorities’ access to some badly needed funding for children’s social care and early intervention services against the background of 60% cuts in the value of the Early Intervention Grant over the last nine years. The overwhelming majority of County Councils Network members feel so, given that it has helped reduced the cuts to preventative budgets (between 2015/16 to 2018/19) by almost a third (from 22% to 17.9%) which is helping to stem the flow of increasing demand for statutory interventions.

For ‘troubled families’ it has (according to the family surveys) given them some confidence and valuable support to change their behaviours, and their ability to manage the circumstances they find themselves in, but it hasn’t, for the most part, changed their material circumstances. For instance: two-thirds of TFP families still have a net household income below £12,500, below the poverty line for families with children, and 40% of families still have a ‘child in need’.

So what next for TFP?

Now that the programme has run its course, certainly in its current form, the government is faced with a dilemma, as the inevitable has to happen with all dedicated funding streams. The extra funding characterised by the programme has not eliminated the problem it was established to tackle. At the same time, we cannot be confident that it has led to significant reform across public services (and not just those delivered by local authorities) to subsume the programme’s funding into general grant given to local authorities, without strings: no local authority area has matched the programme’s service transformation maturity model.

At the same time, we have reached a ‘cliff edge’ for early help and intervention services making it essential that the programme or at least the funding continues in some way, shape or form.

The Children’s Commissioner has a ‘kernel of an idea’ that is: to strengthen the collective accountability for funding and activity in this area through a new cross-government strategy and a shared outcomes and accountability framework which binds together Government programmes such as the Healthy Child Programme, Early Years Foundation Stage and Children’s Centres and Family Hubs, and the successor for TFP. There is a risk that a shift towards more of a focus on early years – which the Commissioner has proposed – relegates the problems of today and young people beyond their early years. Whilst, nearly half of TFP families have at least one child aged five and under, we need at the very least to understand what that would mean for the over fives and those 18 and under, who represent some 45% of programme’s participates in the current cohort.

A successor programme, however, needs to come with a plan to see its work and funding mainstreamed and ‘business as usual’, otherwise we will face a similar dilemma and cliff-edge further down the line. A first step is to see early intervention, prevention and whole-family working fully considered in the Government’s much-promised, and delayed, “broad, bold and independently” led review of children’s social care and in the next (and again delayed) comprehensive spending review bringing within that any conclusions from the Andrea Leadsom review of early years health. That should mean more investment, but also a very real focus upon moving beyond individual relationships making this happen on the ground to one where this is fully embedded between statutory agencies, schools, housing and the police.

External Links

Improving families’ lives: Annual report of the Troubled Families Programme 2019-2020 – June 2020

National evaluation of the Troubled Families Programme 2015 to 2020: findings – March 2019

Troubled Families: Progress review, Public Accounts Committee – December 2016

The Troubled Families programme: update, National Audit Office – October 2016

National evaluation of the first Troubled Families Programme 2012 to 2015 – October 2016

Related Briefings, blogs and bundles

All LGIU Covid-19 resources are gathered in one place and you can also sign up to our Global-Local pandemic Frequent Updates. Contributions are welcome to the LGIU Workstream Post-Covid Councils

Related to the Troubled Families Programme

2020 Spending Review – ‘relative stability’ for children and young people’s services (Nov 2020)

DfE: Children in Need review (July 2019)

National Evaluation of the First Troubled Families Programme – December 2016

Troubled Families update – August 2014

Families facing multiple challenges: NAO report – January 2014

The Cost of Troubled Families: DCLG report – February 2013

Listening to Troubled Families – August 2012

Other recent publications

Ethnic disparities in education (December 2020)

Lessons from lockdown – Ofsted, parents and children (December 2020)

2021 school examinations and fairness (December 2020)

The Greenwich direction – let it be a turning point in central-local relations (December 2020)

Youth service – local authority statutory role and ten-year vision – NYA (December 2020)

Private provision in children’s social care – Children’s Commissioners’ report (December 2020)

Children’s social care: system stability – Children’s Commissioner (December 2020)

Financial transparency: local authority maintained schools and academy trusts (December 2020)

Local government driving social mobility (October 2020)

Improving child health – whole society or individual approaches? (September 2020)

Starting school in September 2020: catching up and recovery (September 2020)

Bundle: Education and Covid-19 (September 2020)

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