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Lessons for America from the Troubled Family Programme

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As a relative newcomer to the Troubled Families Team, it is fascinating to see our programme being used as a policy case study by the Government Performance Lab of the Harvard Kennedy School. The paper, from the graduate professional school that is part of Harvard University, casts a wide-ranging, critical eye over the strengths and challenges of the programme and it is heartening to see the authors write so positively about the practical applications our programme might have to social service delivery in the United States.

Similar challenges here and in the US

Many of the challenges public services face are mirrored in the US, including difficulties with data sharing and families having inconsistent contact with multiple agencies. Therefore, it was pleasing to see the Troubled Families Programme being showcased as something which could be emulated with few reservations: the report highlights, for example, how state agencies could “replicate the UK TFP initiative” by funding dedicated case workers, and set headline outcomes to “serve as guidelines for cities to create their own specific outcomes plans”. It is great that Harvard see the programme as a blueprint for success. We do too – which is exactly why we have launched this blog to share examples of good practice with as wide an audience as possible.

Focus on outcomes

One aspect of our programme the brief focused on in detail was capturing outcomes: it draws out well the balance between the successes of payment by results on one hand, which enabled “the creation of a performance-oriented culture in many local authorities” and sometimes a feeling that “restrictive outcomes set at the central level” can be limiting. Although we in the national Troubled Families Team feel we have a good balance between our focus on outcomes and our desire to give authorities freedom to set their own goals, we are keen to always have it at the forefront of our thinking – and of course why we moved away from nationally prescribed outcomes in the design of the current programme.

Contributions from 6 local authorities

Harvard’s case study work was also a welcome opportunity for local authorities to give their views on the programme. A range of people across six local authorities - Barking and Dagenham, Bristol, Hampshire, Leeds, Leicestershire, and West Sussex - were interviewed. Hampshire’s involvement was followed up in the local press.

In particular, it was really enlightening to see case workers’ voices coming through strongly in this report and bringing the programme to life. One success highlighted by this approach was the amount of flexibility we have provided in terms of how families are supported. One worker in particular highlighted “the ability to tackle deeply entrenched foundational issues that could make a meaningful difference”.

The report, then, is a great source of perspective, and perhaps even a timely reminder of the wider strategic goals of what we do. While the section on applications to the US is particularly cheering, I am looking forward to seeing the findings continue to inform the way we think about the programme. Please do give it a read and if you have any comments please add them below.

Jonathan Barlow, Troubled Families Team

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