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Intensive family support through prevention and family empowerment in Coventry

Change Management

Using a standard methodology, as part of its national Troubled Families Programme, the Department of Communities & Local Government (DCLG) in central government estimated that Coventry had approximately 905 families where children were not attending school, young people were committing crime and involved in anti-social behaviour and the parents or other adults in their life were out of work. DCLG estimated that the average unit cost of interventions for "troubled families" was £10,000 and so made available to local authorities up to £4,000 per family, both as an upfront payment and then with additional ‘payments by results’ (PBR) on a sliding scale over 3 years in order to enable new ways of working to reduce costs and improve the effectiveness of interventions over time.

Coventry City Council wished to ensure that these families were not viewed as separate in a ‘stand-alone’ programme but rather were worked with as part of its overall early intervention strategy. In 2012 Coventry’s Children’s Services undertook a Fundamental Service Review to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of its services. The main focus was on early intervention and prevention, to intervene as early in a child’s life as possible or as soon as problems show up, in order to prevent later escalation, requiring statutory intervention by social care, such as having to take children into care. Families in the programme met the criteria of high levels of anti-social behaviour and/or crime, low educational attainment of children, high worklessness and imposing high costs on public budgets. However, many are below ‘crisis’ levels of intervention, so that they get ‘early help’. 

The ‘learning by doing’ approach has been reinforced by the fact that there is still no national framework for undertaking interventions within the Troubled Families programme, so staff can spend more time with them. In fact, the interventions are really intensive, usually amounting to 8 – 15 hours per family per week. This is only possible, of course, because it currently only involves about 60 families in Coventry.

There has been a high focus on empowerment of families, including work with fathers, to build resilience and sustainable behavioural change. Families have to agree and develop their own plan, identifying how they will input into this – e.g. “I need to get the kids to school, this is how I’ll change – I will link up with other parents who take their kids to the school on same route, sometimes we will all go together, sometimes we’ll let our kids go together own their own, sometimes the mums will take it in turn to take all the kids to the school”.

In another example, support staff weren’t getting anywhere with one mum who clearly did not want to reveal all the details of her problems, but another mum she knew, who herself had been through the intensive support programme, told her about all the benefits of working closely with the programme, went with her to see the key worker, where she decided to open up about her drugs problem and began her road to recovery.

In another example a young mum had been admitted to a women’s refuge due to ongoing severe domestic violence. She was pregnant and found her stay at the women’s refuge to be very isolating from her friends and family. She took the initiative to start a ‘Baby Bumps’ group for mums in a similar situation to herself. This group is now thriving and mums from all over the city attend her groups even if there is no domestic violence in their lives.

Another example is a Community Cafe in a Leisure Centre that caters for the families in the community. It conducts many functions like bonfire night events, afterschool clubs, young people’s gym, Breakfast Clubs, Family Fun days, Tots and Toast, Summer Play schemes, Healthy Eating for local residents, drop in money advice, walk and talk and many other community engagement events run by the community for the community. This helps to build community resilience through asset based working.

The philosophy of co-production is central to the whole approach. Coventry City Council now promotes strength-based approaches, which means that the whole early intervention approach seeks to work with and help to develop the capabilities of families and all their members.

About this case study
Main Contact

Louison Ricketts

Intensive Family Support Team, Coventry City Council

Email: Louison.Ricketts@

This case study was written by Louison Ricketts and Tony Bovaird in September 2015.

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