Troubleshooting Families

Millionaire Cameron is riding in on his moral high horse to save ‘troubled’ families. So the government agenda of blame and simplistic thinking continues. Yesterday, Cameron announced his programme of rolling out ‘troubleshooters’ to help ‘problem’ families.

I don’t know where to start in picking apart this policy initiative which, on a shallow level, seems to be fine (apart from the language which is shocking and couched in prejudice and blame that this government is becoming quite skilled at). Coordinating approaches across different agencies is all well and good, it is when you look at the details, the costs the figures and the language that this proposal shows Cameron up for the sham that we know  he is and his PR background comes to the fore as he believes the public stupid enough to believe his agenda.

Ironic that his proposal to ‘troubleshoot’ comes on the day that Community Care reports that the government is reneging on Munro’s recommendations to support Early Intervention as a statutory duty of Local Authorities.

But let me take it back to Cameron’s ‘Troubleshooting’ plan to look at.

The headline proposal is that 120,000 of ‘Britain’s most troubled families’ will be helped. Troubled. Troubled is poverty. Troubled is being marginalised. Troubled is being targeted by government policy.

The Independent lists the ‘criteria’ to be considered ‘troubled’ by the government

Problem family? The seven criteria

* No-one in the family is in work.

* The family is living in poor or overcrowded housing.

* No person has any qualifications.

* Mother has mental health problems.

* At least one parent has a long-standing illness or disability.

* The family has a low income.

* The family is unable to afford a number of food or clothing items.

You’ll be happy to know that you only need to meet five out of these seven to be ‘targeted’ by a troubleshooter.

So look at that list. How much is about individual choice and how much is about public policy? How much of those factors are related to poverty?

I find the inclusion of –note- MOTHER has mental health problems a little difficult to stomach. Firstly because it increases stigma without explanation and secondly because it specifies mother – whereas the next criterion at least recognises that there may be more than one parent!

It makes me sick in the stomach to think that these elements label a family as troubled. If I were a parent, struggling, I would feel mortified that even potentially useful service would be offered to me because the language has labelled my family as a ‘problem’ merely through poverty. Calling the programme a means to target ‘families with greater needs’ may be have been less stigmatising. Calling ‘troubleshooters’ something else, I don’t know what, would help but this language emphasises blame for poverty. Suggesting that someone coming in to help me with budgeting will really ‘solve’ the difficulties faced is bordering on patronising.

Channel 4’s fantastic FactCheck blog deconstructs Cameron’s muddled thinking about the financing behind it but to sum up, the money given to local authorities will not be ring-fenced and payments will be on the basis of ‘results’ achieved.

This article in the Daily Telegraph has the headline ‘Cameron attacks blight of chaotic families’ says it all really. BLIGHT? Really? That’s helpful for people who might need this additional assistance. It would make me want to push any help back in the faces of those providing it if they thought I and my family are a ‘blight’. Oh,  but I suppose Cameron doesn’t think Poor People read the Daily Telegraph, so he’s ok.

And what/who will these troubleshooters be? According to the Independent

A squad of “troubleshooters” will take charge of efforts to combat the criminality and anti-social behaviour committed by a hard core of problem families.

They will dispatch social workers to visit the worst troublemakers, giving them practical advice on how to run a home and raise a family.

Oh dear. ‘How to Run a Home and Raise a Family’. How incredibly patronising that sounds. How incredibly not about the social work that I fight for which is about empowering people to use their own skills and about working on a strengths-based model which looks at what people are able to do and not focus solely on problems. Really? Practice Advice on How to Run a Home and Raise a Family? Does Cameron think we are SuperNanny and Kirsty Allsop combined?

I despair.

11 thoughts on “Troubleshooting Families

  1. “Does Cameron think we are SuperNanny and Kirsty Allsop combined?” perhaps he does and that in his world celebrity/reality TV provides all the answers and gives him the model by which everything can be fixed? By the way, where is the money coming from? Presumably the magic cash pot will be accrued from the cuts to services and resources that create or exacerbate the circumstances that lead to ‘problem families’ ?

  2. Blimey. I think some candour is probably going to help problem families. If some people are fucked up it doesn’t help anyone, let alone them, to call them ‘in need of greater support’. Fuzzy thinking and woolly language is not going to do any good. This policy might work… And I’m not a Tory!

  3. “Mother has mental health problems”….”At least one parent has a long-standing illness or disability.” Just what on earth do they think young carer services are for?

    Oh wait, they just focus on silly things like actually helping families, rather than bellowing, “Oi! Poor people! Stop being so damn poor all the time!”

  4. Keith, look at those criteria and then think about what the actual problem is. But thanks for the comment, it’s good to have my admitted fluffiness challenged 🙂

  5. I listened to the press trail ahead of yesterday’s announcements and imagined that (rightly or otherwise) there would be some element of crime or antisocial behaviour included in the programme and yet these seven critieria. I’m just trying to understand why you are a ‘problem’ if you are an mother with mental health problems, who has no qualifications and job job and therefore a low incomce and restricted food / clothing choices.

    That’s just poverty, isn’t it? I though the programme was to target those families who as a consequence of all of this engaged in crime or anti-social behaviour that represented a more significant impact upon their community or local services. Got a funny feeling that 120,000 will be a number which grossly under-estimates the number that will be brought into this net.

  6. May I ask: what would you do? 🙂

  7. I agree, this policy is a p.o.s. I think I highlighted the ‘mother with mental illness’ bit in a previous comment. however I’m not so sure that practical advice on running a home and raising a family is such an bad thing, if done in the right way, i.e. non patronising. One of the reasons people have such awful diets is because traditional cooking skills/abilty to create cheap nourishing meals from scratch is no longer transmitted through normal social learning routes. Bad diet is one element in poor behaviour of children, is it not?

    I do agree though, this is a pile of poo. Im particularly interested why none of the criteria refer to antisocial behaviour, crime, or truancy, when clearly these are high on the real agenda as the Telegraph quote shows. In which case why not say so? A kind of squeamish gesture to policitical correctness?

    A report on R4 yesterday refrred to these ‘troubleshoters replacing the host of other agencies. Quite how one person is going to get all these children up for school in the morning, appear in the Family Court at 10.00, give Mum CBT at 11.30 and find Dad a job in the afternoon – teaching him to cook spag bol can wait til the next day – remains to be seen.

  8. This isn’t too unlike the old ‘moral defective’ criteria that used to see women without the means to feed their families declared ‘insane’ & incarcerated in asylums – also for purely financial readons (asylum ‘care’ cheapet than ‘on the parish’)
    The tories really are showing their true colours with this one.

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  10. As a first year social work student, I find this quite frightening; that our government would begin to use the term ‘problem’ family. I agree – the fact that the emphasise is on the mother having a mental health issue should not be allowed, but yet the Prime Minister, who puts so much emphasise into the traditional family of two parents, only acknowledges a mental health illness in the mother as a ‘problem’. Surely if Mr Cameron was so adamant that we must begin to emphasise the need for the ‘Nuclear’ family, he would acknowledge that BOTH parents mental health will affect a child. And so much is centred around poverty. Maybe I’m just rambling here, but surely if there weren’t so many cuts being made, more people could find work, break from the poverty cycle, move to a bigger home, and gain more qualifications through college and university? I just don’t see why they should be labelled as ‘problems’..

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