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INSIDE TRACK: Troubled families that are crying out for help

We know what makes stronger communities and helps troubled families thrive.

That's the claim in a study published today by think tank Demos, and it is a thought--provoking read for anyone interested in getting a better bang for the public buck.

Titled A Wider Lens 2, it focuses on the 24,000 severely disadvantaged families in Scotland that a previous report - A Wider Lens - identified.

These 24,000 families face multiple problems such as low income, unemployment, poor physical or mental health and a lack of qualifications. In their combination of disadvantages, they resemble the "troubled" families David Cameron pledged to turn around in 2011.

Glasgow has three times the national average of such families, the report claims, with more than one in 10 of the city's families facing severe disadvantage. But what kind of help do they need to turn things around? Demos's suggestion is that many of the strengths are already there. When they asked families who qualified as severely disadvantaged to keep diaries of their experiences, it became apparent how much wider networks of support kept some of them going.

Demos is calling for policies to help promote and rebuild the localised networks of support families on the edge depend on. They are the granny round the corner, the working mum who nevertheless takes on a caring role for her ageing parents, or the neighbour who looks out for a child and takes them on an outing, giving both parent and child some variety.

Policies should encourage this kind of network, but are failing to do so, Demos suggests. Housing offices should look favourably on those who are looking to live close to the homes of existing family members.

The bedroom tax should be repealed, because it can force families to move and lose contact with family members or other sources of support.

Community building and regeneration are not new concepts. But this still makes sense. As a children's panel member, I frequently see children in worrying situations where the presence of an extended family member living nearby is a reassuring protective factor.

The Scottish Government should review the help on offer to full and part-time carers, Demos says, which is also eminently sensible. However, aspects of the report seem unrealistic. Job centres should be legally obliged to make sure that claimants receive all the benefits they are entitled to? If it were that easy, would errors in the benefit system be as high as they are?

Because families fear social services, ministers should consider splitting social work's enforcement and support function, Demos says. But no agency would ignore the need to enforce child protection measures if necessary, so this seems problematic.

The Scottish charity Quarriers has backed the report. Chief Executive Paul Moore suggests services can be better tailored to individuals and their networks, to help families keep their heads above water. Mr Moore says it is no longer enough to look at how we deliver more public services with less money. The Demos report is a starting point, he says: "We need to start considering how we can deliver public services in a different way."

Contextual targeting label: 
Families

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