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The government's flagship Troubled Families programme is successfully reducing the number of children deemed to be in need of support from local authorities, according to emerging evidence.
Early findings from a Department for Communities and Local Government analysis of the second phase of the programme, which runs from 2015 to 2020, found that the number of children in need among families involved in the initiative fell 13 per cent after the intervention.
The report reveals that, six months after the intervention began, the proportion of children in need was 36.4 per cent, but 12 months on, this fell to 31.7 per cent.
In contrast, over the same period the incidences of a child deemed to need support from councils rose slightly among a comparison group not receiving support.
The research also found that the proportion of children subject to a protection plan fell from 9.9 per cent to 9.5 per cent in the same period. The proportion of looked-after children also fell, from two per cent to 1.2 per cent over the same period.
"Findings on children's social care indicators are encouraging," states the research report.
"For this Troubled Families cohort, the incidence of children designated as children in need decreases by 13 per cent when comparing the position at six months after the start of the Troubled Families intervention with the position 12 months after the Troubled Families intervention.
"In the same period the incidence of children designated as children in need in the unmatched comparison group continued to rise. There is a similar trend for children on Child Protection Plans, albeit less pronounced."
According to figures released by the Department for Education, there were 389,430 children in need at the end of March this year. Over the last seven years this figure has remained relatively stable, dipping to 369,410 in 2012 and peaking in 2014 at 397,630.
DfE commissioned research released last month found that supporting children in need is placing considerable pressure on council budgets. It found that local authorities are spending 10 per cent more per head on children in need of support than they did in 2010.
Earlier this year the Local Government Association warned that councils face a £2bn spending gap in children's services by 2020 due to rising demand and cuts to central government grants.
The current Troubled Families progamme aims to help 400,000 disadvantaged families with complex needs, including parental unemployment and children being involved in crime, anti-social behavior and being excluded from school.
It is run by councils and funded on a payment-by-results basis with payment made only once there is evidence that families' lives have improved.
The government invested £448m in the programme to help 120,000 families during a first phase between 2012 to 2015. A further £900m of government money is being invested in its current phase, from 2015 to 2020.
Other emerging findings from the DCLG research include concerns raised by key workers around poor access to mental health support for families.
One in three troubled families have a family member with a mental health issue but lengthy waits to be seen by specialist teams, including child and adolescent and mental health services, is seen by key workers as the biggest barrier the initiative faces.
Almost nine out of 10 (88 per cent) key workers said that waiting for such specialist support to diagnose family problems was a key barrier and seven out of 10 (71 per cent) said waiting lists for support services are a major problem.
Improving access to mental health services is the most popular solution put forward by key workers to improve the programme, cited by 54 per cent of those surveyed.
In April, a survey of families involved found that a quarter were dissatisfied with access to support.
Meanwhile, the biggest concern among Troubled Families co-ordinators surveyed by the DCLG is cuts to core services for families, which was mentioned by 71 per cent of those surveyed.
The payment-by-results funding method has also been called into question, with 47 per cent describing it as challenging, compared with 25 per cent when this group of managers were asked in 2015.
Concerns about the effectiveness of the scheme have been raised previously.
A National Institute of Economic and Social Research report published in October 2016 found across a wide range of outcomes such as employment, benefit receipt, school attendance, safeguarding and child welfare, it was "unable to find consistent evidence that the programme had any significant or systematic impact".
In addition, a study by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, published in November 2015 said that government assertions that the programme had a 99 per cent success rate among families was "unbelievable" and also claimed the programme had "wasted millions".
By Joe Lepper
8 December 2017