Recently I returned from Copenhagen, which was part of a module on the Solace Total Leadership Programme. In the city there are a significant minority of families who are struggling with multiple and complex problems – worklessness, family conflict, problem debt and health and housing issues.
It was a great opportunity for reflections on the way local leadership happens in a different system.
In the UK, The Troubled Families Programme is addressing these problems head on by working intensively with families as a whole to provide the stability and practical support they need. In doing so, the programme is transforming families’ lives before they hit crisis point, and in turn, generate savings for local authorities who are delivering it with other partners.
A Danish example that stood out to me was their way of combining social care with employment services which came out of our visit to the Rødovre Kommune - an urban area of Copenhagen.
Here we were hosted by Henrik Abildtrup - Director of Social Care, Health and Employment. Just his job title tells you something - I have yet to come across a director of social care in England who also is the director of employment services!
As a leader of these three different service areas he established an interrelationship that suggests by supporting an adult into work, they can reduce the impact of the health and social care needs of the household.
Building stronger communities
Henrik’s employment services cover those considered to be at high risk of unemployment and provides targeted support for them to access work.
There is a strong national focus on unemployment. The impact of this has been recognised by the Danish government ever since the welfare state was established, with more responsibility given to local areas like Rødovre to tackle it. Henrik’s department allocates important resources to move unemployed people back into the labour market to build stronger, healthier communities.
I have been working within the Troubled Families Programme since 2013 and have seen many great examples of how early help services across England are tackling unemployment in households where there are complex issues.
I recall one family where the mother had mental health issues and had fled domestic violence. Her oldest son had been offending and her other children had low school attendance. They had intensive support from an early help practitioner and a Troubled Families Employment Adviser who was seconded into early help services from Department of Work and Pensions.
This combined intervention lead to the mother increasing her confidence to seek and secure employment. It also led to better health and she was able to make sure the children were attending school. She improved the relationship with her eldest son, who no longer saw her as ‘always ill’ but now as a role model.
The principles of Henrik’s structure are worth considering and makes me think our ambition should be that all public services have a focus on supporting adults into work. Imagine the outcomes we could achieve for those families by reducing their need for acute services in the longer term.
The Troubled Families Programme is already helping to bridge local authorities' early help services with Job Centres and my view is that we should consider whether this model of partnership working could be applied to other services.
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Alima Qureshi is the Head of Spot Check and Data on the Troubled Families Team.