About Focus Family

What is 'Focus Family?'

The Focus Family project is part of the national Troubled Families programme, a Department for Communities and Local Government initiative to support local authorities in addressing the needs of the most challenging and hard to reach families. Nationally, these are families considered to have a range of needs that include:

Children not attending school.
Family members involved in crime or anti-social behaviour.
Families at risk of financial exclusion including those with adults on out of work benefit and young people at risk of being out of work or training when they leave school.
Families living with or having experienced domestic abuse/violence.
Family members with physical and/or mental health needs including substance misuse.
A child in need of help.

Our Experience in Cumbria

Families working with the Focus Family project now have all their needs identified on one plan which is shared across the agencies working with them. Evidence indicates this kind of intensive work helps families to make sustainable changes and improve their circumstances. Between April 2012 and March 2015 the programme was tasked with addressing the needs of 1050 families with the most complex needs and has already evidenced sustained changes with these families.

The continuation of this programme means that from 1st April 2015 it is expected that a further 3380 families with a wide range of needs will benefit from this approach over the next five years.

In line with national findings, Cumbrian Focus Family families often have multiple challenges of a highly complex nature; they are out of work, live with domestic abuse, struggle to manage substance misuse, often have children at risk of neglect and many feel ostracised in their own communities.

Following Focus Family work these families are now volunteering in their communities, gaining employment, attending support groups to help deal with the effects of domestic abuse or to manage their substance misuse. The children and young people in the families are now going to and staying in school, they are reducing their offending and improving their life chances.

The work follows the Local Safeguarding Children's Board recommendations that every family in need of additional or multiple services should be supported through the use of an Early Help Assessment. The Cumbria LSCB website has more information on this.  The revised Early Help Assessments are now able to gather information on the needs of the whole family. This helps to ensure all barriers and strengths are recognised and taken into account.

A vital part of the Focus Family work is to address the causes and effects of poverty. To assist with this we have secondees from Jobcentre Plus who are able to offer advice on benefits, getting job ready, returning to and sustaining employment.  Their details are below, so please contact us if you would like support with this.

How Do I Get Support for Myself or a Family I Work With?

If you or a family you are working with meet the following criteria please contact the Focus Family team at: Focusfamily@cumbria.gov.uk.

Children not attending school.
Family members involved in crime or anti-social behaviour.
Families at risk of financial exclusion including those with adults on out of work benefit and young people at risk of being out of work or training when they leave school.
Families living with or having experienced domestic abuse/violence.
Family members with physical and/or mental health needs including substance misuse.
A child in need of help.

It is important to understand the Focus Family programme is about a way of working where all professionals work together with the family in order to reduce duplication of services and to help the family co-ordinate their support.

Any requests for support will be expected to have either an Early Help Assessment or a Statutory Plan to identify the family's needs. If you do not have these please contact us for more advice.

The Family Outcome documents will help partners and families gain an understanding of expected outcomes.

The flowchart outlines the process for referring into the Focus Family team, what happens with the information provided and how support is secured.

A few other points that may help you are to be aware that:

For a family to meet criteria more than one family member must meet at least 2 of the 6 themes above.  

For the purposes of this work a family is defined by the census definition of a household: 'a group of people who either share living accommodation, or share one meal a day and who have the address as their only or main residence'. However, this does not exclude work with other family members where this reduces risk factors and increases protective factors for the family.  

If you have already completed an Early Help Assessment, or equivalent, and you have permission to share it, please send it to the Focus Family Team. Please note the assessment will need to show evidence of meeting the Focus Family criteria.

Cumbria County Council and its' partners are working hard on the continuation of the Focus Family programme. The Focus Family work has been driven by the national Troubled Families programme, a Department for Communities and Local Government initiative to support local authorities in addressing the needs of the most challenging and hard to reach families. Nationally these are families considered to have children not attending school, family members involved in crime or anti-social behaviour and adults on out of work benefits. From 1st April 2015 it is expected that a further 3380 families with a wide range of needs will benefit from this approach over the next five years. The scale of this is not to be underestimated; if change is to be effected within the families it also needs to be effective within the organisations providing services for the families.

A successful collaborative approach in Cumbria has secured further reward grants to ensure a more holistic family centred delivery model. Evidence (1) indicates this kind of intensive work helps families to make sustainable changes and improve their circumstances.  Between April 2012 and March 2015 the programme was tasked with addressing the needs of 1050 families with the most complex needs and evidenced sustained changes with these families.  Since April 2015 changes in how services operate have become more embedded and continue to support many families.  Of these, a total of 298 families have met the outcomes of the Family Outcome Plan.

In line with national findings, Cumbrian Focus Family families often have multiple challenges of a highly complex nature; they are out of work, live with domestic abuse, struggle to manage substance misuse, often have children at risk of neglect and many feel ostracised in their own communities.

Following Focus Family work these families are now volunteering in their communities, gaining employment, attending support groups to help deal with the effects of domestic abuse or to manage their substance misuse. The children and young people in the families are now going to and staying in school, they are reducing their offending and improving their life chances.

Cumbrian families currently in receipt of many services are now finding the work is more co-ordinated with all their needs identified on one plan and all agencies working together. Partners such as Children's Centres have provided keyworkers to support the families; the Youth Offending Service and Police have been a crucial part of a wider response to the families' needs; the Law Centre has provided advocacy for families at risk of financial exclusion and in need of mediation; staff from Jobcentre Plus are now an integral part of the Focus Family team and have been on home visits to provide benefit advice and help adults into employment. Being in work has many advantages including improved mental health and wellbeing for both the adults and children in the family (2) it helps to reduce the effects of poverty and also reduces the costs to the taxpayer.

(1) - DCLG, 2012, Working with Troubled Families; Dillane, 2001, Evaluation of the Dundee Families Project

(2) - Children's Society. 2014, Good Childhood Report

From April 2012 to March 2015:

1050 families have met crime and education and/or worklessness exit criteria.

Crime is defined as a household with at least under 18 yr old with a proven offence or anyone in household with anti-social behaviour order/contract/injunction or housing related ASB intervention in last 12 months.

Education criteria: Household has at least 1 young person with either: permanent exclusion, 3 or more fixed term exclusions, unauthorised attendance below 85% across 3 consecutive terms OR in alternative provision or PRU/not on school roll.

Worklessness - adults claiming out of work benefits.

This breaks down into:

232 families previously met crime criteria and had reduced their anti-social behaviour or other crimes over the last 6 months of the intervention.

127 families had school attendance at levels of statutory intervention and now had improved this to show that over 3 consecutive terms they had maintained an improved attendance.

483 families had both anti-social behaviour and/or other crime AND poor school attendance and had improved both of these.

41 families have moved off out of work benefits and into employment.

116 families have achieved both the crime and/or education result AND moved into work.


Services supported through the Focus Family reward grant between 2012-2015:

Edge of care

Nightstop

Love Barrow Families - deliver work with families and find a new base where they will be co-located with other community services

Children's Centres

Child and Family Support Team

Local initiatives to support people into work (Inspiring Futures)

Apprenticeships

The "Family" were referred to the Focus Family Team by school due to concerns with a family that had debts and were in receipt of worklessness benefits; health issues and housing issues.  It was clearly identified that school needed support from appropriately identified agencies to attend an urgent Team Around the Family (TAF) meeting.  The Focus Family Team contacted the Housing Officer and Local Area Co-ordinator (LAC) to advise that the family had been identified as a Focus Family and to request their support to join The Focus Family Employment Advisor, Early Help Officer, School Pastoral staff and Health Worker in their urgency at the next TAF meeting.

Through robust discussions at the TAF meeting and an open flow of communications following the meeting, the unmet needs were identified, these include:   

·        The Housing Officer and LAC supporting the family`s housing application to remain within the immediate area

·        All agencies including MIND and the GP in supporting to manage the eviction notice

·        School Pastoral staff and LAC having discussions with the landlords agent

·        The Housing Officer and Focus Family Employment Advisor providing support and information on private rentals in the area, financial impact and discretionary housing payments

·        Focus Family Employment Advisor supporting with debts and money management, benefit advice and support to access work, training and or volunteering

·        LAC and GP continued support for parents now and during the summer break and positive relationships maintained

·        Focus Family Team sought information and processes on school transport issues to and from school if the family had to move out of the area

Parents made an application to the Local Housing Association and placed a bid for new accommodation in the immediate area.  As the family had been identified as a Focus Family their application was supported with additional information which was gathered during the TAF and continued open communication from all agencies.

The bid was successful and the family moved into their new home which was within the local community shortly after.  Mental Health needs subsided, the child was more settled, debts issues were supported, training employment and volunteering opportunities were accessed by parents, continued support around low level housing needs was supported until need reduced and was no longer required.  The child was able to remain in the local area and continue to build on his peer group friendships and moved happily into secondary education after the summer break, and all agencies involved with the family were kept informed and shard information appropriately.

The family require very little support and are happily settled in their new community.  Most of the agencies initially involved have no pulled back their support as no longer required.