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Evaluation of Intensive Family Support Projects in Scotland

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2. Project Origins and Organisational Arrangements

Chapter summary

Set up in 1996 by Dundee City Council, the Dundee Families Project ( DFP) was aimed at improving the behaviour of families at risk of eviction due to family member misconduct and thereby preventing eviction. Drawing on the DFP model, the Aberdeen Families Project ( AFP) was established in 2005, and the three Breaking the Cycle (BtC) projects initiated in 2006/07. Funding arrangements varied. The BtC projects were financed through a specific Scottish Government fund running for two years from 2006/07. AFP drew its funding from Scottish Government ASB grant support to Aberdeen City Council, whilst DFP continued to be financed from Dundee City Council's Supporting People budget.

All five projects were established through initiatives involving the housing and social work departments of the relevant local authorities. Whilst one authority - South Lanarkshire - ran its scheme as an in-house service, the other four Projects were operated by voluntary agencies under contract 1. The model used in Aberdeen and Dundee differed from that used in the other authorities in that it included a 'core block' residential facility as well as outreach support.

As well as seeking to help service users avoid homelessness and family break-up, for example through children being looked after and accommodated, the projects aimed to promote broader social inclusion for family members as well as safer, more cohesive communities. Referrals for Project support were triggered by anti-social behaviour and many of the families had long been considered problematic by the agencies working with them. However, there was no rigid requirement that a referred family needed to have been subject to legal action.

Most of the recently-established Projects experienced substantial difficulties in recruiting and/or retaining staff. These problems were partly attributed to the short term nature of Project funding, but also related to the highly demanding nature of the work and the modest salaries on offer. While the staffing complements of the five Projects were fairly similar (7-10 FTEs) caseloads varied to a greater extent, apparently implying variation in the intensity of support from Project to Project.

About 55% of referrals to the Projects had been made by housing department officers, with those originating from social workers accounting for most of the remainder (a few originated from other sources such as housing associations or the police). Projects rejected only a very small proportion of families formally referred and assessed. However, informal discussions between referral agencies and Project staff at an earlier stage appear to act as an initial sift to minimise 'inappropriate referrals'.

All five Projects were partly accountable to oversight groups bringing together key stakeholders from the provider agency (where relevant), as well as from relevant council departments (e.g. housing, social work, community safety). Such groups were found to be invaluable as a means of furthering constructive joint working around referral processes as well as service delivery to families accepted for Project support. Nevertheless, some of the Projects faced considerable challenges in bridging cultural divides separating them from key stakeholders and, thereby, establishing their credibility as effective operators.

2.1 Chapter scope

2.1 The paper draws together evidence collected through the two sets of interviews with Project managers, referral agencies and other key stakeholders. These were undertaken in late 2006, as the Breaking the Cycle (BtC) projects were being set up, and in summer 2008 when all had been fully operational for at least 12 months. In addition, in Section 2.6, we draw on data collected from the five Projects via inward referral monitoring forms.

2.2 Background to Project establishment

2.2 The Dundee Families Project ( DFP) stands apart from the other four projects in having been in operation since 1996. Its establishment was partly inspired by Dundee City Council's experience in handling a particular family evicted for anti-social behaviour in 1993. The Housing Department agreed to grant a tenancy to the family on condition that a voluntary agency (Barnardos) took on tenancy management and supported the family. The 'remarkable' subsequent changes in family member behaviour convinced the Council that the concept of intensive family support could be usefully applied on a larger scale. This was taken forward through outsourcing the function to NCH (now Action for Children Scotland), an arrangement which has proved enduring.

2.3 The Aberdeen Families Project ( AFP) was set up by Aberdeen City Council in 2005. Motivating factors included an awareness of the positive experience at Dundee and the Scottish Executive's 2003 requirement that councils receiving the largest ASB grant allocations should provide support to families responsible for anti-social behaviour.

2.4 The projects in Falkirk (delivered by Aberlour Child Care Trust), P4 Perth (Action for Children Scotland - formerly NCH) and South Lanarkshire (in-house team) were set up in 2006/07 in response to invitations to bid for funding under the (then) Scottish Executive's BtC pilot programme as announced in 2004. In their initial establishment, all the projects were to some extent joint enterprises on the part of housing and social work departments in the relevant local authorities. In some cases (Aberdeen, Dundee, South Lanarkshire) the lead had been taken by housing and/or community safety. In Falkirk the social work department was the lead project sponsors. Perhaps surprisingly, it was not clear that specialist ASB staff had been closely involved in setting up all projects. In at least two instances it was asserted that this had certainly not happened. The subsequently inadequate engagement between ASB staff and Projects in these authorities seems to have been a direct consequence of this omission (see Section 2.4).

2.3 Project aims

2.5 The central aims adopted by the five projects appeared remarkably similar. Projects sought to target intensive support on families otherwise liable to eviction for anti-social behaviour so as to:

  • enable families to avoid homelessness
  • reduce (rather than simply displace) anti-social behaviour unresolved by 'conventional remedies'
  • reduce reliance on 'punitive' responses to ASB
  • avoid the need for children to be looked after and accommodated (or enable children to be returned from care)
  • create safer, more stable communities.

2.6 In order to realise these aims, Projects aspired to reduce the incidence of drug and alcohol abuse, improve parenting, improve self-esteem etc.

2.7 Some of the local authorities concerned saw their Project primarily within the context of the 'homelessness prevention' agenda as developed by Central Government in recent years (Pawson et al, 2007). A Project's central role, therefore, was to reduce the incidence of homelessness resulting from ASB evictions. To put this in some form of perspective it is relevant to note that such evictions by local authorities in Scotland amount to a relatively small number of cases in any given year 2. For example, as shown in Table 2.1 such cases proceeding to court in 2006/07 numbered only 80 across the entire country. Including instances of properties abandoned in the course of proceedings, only 32 secure tenants were recorded as subject to ASB evictions by local authorities in the same year 3.

2.8 Taking all of this into account, it would appear that, across Scotland, council tenants dispossessed of their homes for ASB total around 50 each year. (Although this figure relates only to local authority actions, if housing association activity runs at similar levels the national 'all social landlord' total would still number well under 100). In relating these figures to the numbers of families assisted by IFSPs it should also be borne in mind that a proportion of those subject to ASB eviction will be non-family households (and, therefore, outwith the remit of most IFSPs).

Table 2.1 - Local authority possession actions, 2003/04-2006/07

Number of cases proceeding to court

Number of cases resulting in an eviction order

Number of cases resulting in an abandoned dwelling

Number of cases resulting in an eviction

Total

For anti-social behaviour

Total

For anti-social behaviour

Total

For anti-social behaviour

Total

For anti-social behaviour

2003/04

18,235

116

5,922

46

1,268

21

927

28

2004/05

16,568

98

5,768

53

1,112

11

939

26

2005/06

17,130

105

5,711

39

914

13

986

38

2006/07

16,556

80

5,184

32

964

14

1,049

18

Source: Scottish Government housing statistics
http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/Doc/933/0056548.xls

Table 2.2 - Local authority tenants evicted for anti-social behaviour, LAs with recently established IFSPs, 2001/02-2007/08

Aberdeen

Falkirk

Perth & Kinross

South Lanarkshire

Total

2001/02

8

2

2

3

15

2002/03

5

0

1

5

11

2003/04

1

5

0

0

6

2004/05

1

1

2

5

9

2005/06

0

4

1

7

12

2006/07

0

3

1

3

7

2007/08

1

4

0

0

5

Source: Scottish Government housing statistics. Note that the South Lanarkshire figure for 2006/07 includes 1 SSST terminated due to abandonment.

2.9 Table 2.2 shows the trend of ASB evictions by the four councils which have established intensive family support projects since 2005. Figures for 2007/08 are encouraging in that evictions fell to a post-2001 low across the four councils 4. The broader point, however, is the relatively small numbers of actions recorded. Even in the peak year of 2001/02 these totalled only 15.

2.10 Allowance needs to be made for ASB evictions by housing associations. However, given the relative scale of housing association stockholdings in the four districts, it seems unlikely that the total number of evictions by all social landlords in these areas would have exceeded 20 in any recent year. The average figure for the years 2001/02-2005/06 is likely to have been under 15 (a total likely to have included some non-family households). This can be compared with the 34 families accepted for support by the four Projects during 2007/08. The implication seems to be that Project caseloads may extend considerably beyond families who 'would otherwise be evicted from social housing for ASB'.

2.4 Service procurement, staffing levels and recruitment

Procurement

2.11 One project (South Lanarkshire) was operated as an in-house council service. The other four authorities had commissioned voluntary agencies as service providers. In South Lanarkshire, the Council had all along preferred the 'direct provision' model. As a large authority already experienced in direct provision of support services for groups such as substance abusers the Council saw no compelling argument in favour of out-sourcing. At no stage did the then Scottish Executive place any pressure on the Council to consider out-sourcing.

2.12 South Lanarkshire saw its model as beneficial in terms of the potential for close integration between the Project and relevant Council functions (especially the homelessness service). It was also argued that a council-run IFSP brings advantage because of a local authority's ultimate responsibility for families requiring intensive support (in terms of child protection as well as rehousing under homelessness legislation). The fact that 'the buck stops with (social work and homelessness) colleagues' was seen as providing powerful incentive for a council-run team to 'own a family's problems' in a way which a voluntary agency might not.

2.13 As noted above, the Dundee Families Project is run by Action for Children Scotland (formerly NCH), as commissioned by the City Council. Procurement approaches in relation to the other recently-established projects can be summarised as:

  • Aberdeen - NCH (now Action for Children Scotland) appointed through competitive tendering (initial 2-year contract renewed in June 2007)
  • Falkirk - negotiated tender with Aberlour Child Care Trust (Aberlour CCT) to build on the agency's existing local presence and relevant experience
  • Perth & Kinross - NCH (now Action for Children Scotland) appointed to run P4 Perth project through competitive tendering

2.14 These authorities acknowledged their lack of internal capacity and saw the out-sourced model as attractive in enabling them to buy in established expertise. It was also argued that the status of an external service provider as 'independent of the council' could be beneficial in improving the prospects that families referred to the service would engage with the support provider. A potentially relevant instance cited by P4 Perth involved a household referred to the project and who had willingly co-operated with Action for Children Scotland project workers on their first visit, having previously declined to work with council staff. However, it was not clear that Action for Children's organisational status was necessarily the critical factor here.

2.15 In Aberdeen it proved difficult to identify a suitable contractor; success was achieved only after three rounds of tendering. In Perth, Action for Children's appointment (via competition) had stemmed both from the agency's previous experience in providing intensive family support services (e.g. DFP) and from its existing presence in the local area. Similarly, whilst it did not involve tendering, Falkirk's selection of Aberlour CCT was described as building on an existing strong relationship with the Council rather than being 'a complete leap in the dark, partnership-wise'.

2.16 None of the local authorities reported having found any means of involving potential service users in working up project specifications. Without questioning the principle of service user involvement it was felt that the concept was not applicable in this context. Indeed, it was believed that any publicity about developing such provision needed to be very sensitively handled to minimise the risk of sensationalist press coverage. However, Projects encouraged feedback from service users once services were operational.

Staffing levels

2.17 Project staffing complements were reported as follows:

  • Aberdeen: 10 FTE staff including 2 project worker posts and a domestic worker post established to coincide with opening the Project's core block in summer 2007
  • Dundee: 8 FTE staff including 4 project workers and 2 senior project workers. Also, service manager jointly responsible for oversight of AFP.
  • Falkirk: 7 FTE staff including four project worker posts.
  • P4 Perth: 8.2 FTE staff including 3 project workers and 1 senior project worker.
  • South Lanarkshire: 7 FTE staff including 4 project worker posts.

2.18 In some projects there was also substantial budgetary provision to buy in specialist services (e.g. counselling, addiction treatment) from external agencies, as well as agency workers to cover for sickness absence among the permanent staffing complement.

Project staff recruitment and retention

2.19 In recruiting new staff teams, three of the four recently-established projects experienced substantial difficulties. Some were forced to re-advertise posts at higher salaries following disappointing responses to an initial round of advertising. Recruitment to newly created posts at Aberdeen and Perth came at a cost for DFP in that Dundee staff members were among those appointed to the new posts.

2.20 Once established, some of the Projects also found staff retention problematic, with relatively high levels of turnover within their short lifetimes. By summer 2008 one Project had seen the departure and replacement of almost half its staff members within 18 months of setup. Due to a combination of recruitment and retention problems another (Aberdeen) had failed to achieve a full staffing complement at any point in its existence up until summer 2008.

2.21 The limited timescale of the BtC programme and the comparative pay levels was widely seen as creating difficulties in attracting experienced and qualified staff, as well as in staff retention, which was also affected by the intensity of the work and the irregular hours involved. This compounded challenges faced by Project managers.

Project staff backgrounds and skills

2.22 Other than the transfers of former DFP staff, the more recently-established projects reported having appointed workers with a range of relevant skills and experience - e.g. in supported housing, nursing, drug and alcohol services and housing benefits administration. Nevertheless, while typically embracing their new professional role with great enthusiasm and commitment many of the recently-appointed caseworkers had no relevant experience and sometimes little knowledge of critically relevant social work functions. Project managers sought to address such issues through induction and/or in-service training or, in one instance, secondment of a dedicated social worker to the Project.

2.23 The Project caseworker role is undoubtedly a highly demanding one, both in terms of the personal skills and the wide range of knowledge required. Many newly-recruited staff consequently faced a steep learning curve, especially in reconciling tensions between identification with families under their supervision and their responsibilities towards local authority colleagues - e.g. on reporting newly identified child protection issues to the relevant social worker or co-operating with ASB officers acting on behalf of a service user family's neighbours.

2.24 Project managers saw it as highly beneficial to recruit staff with complementary skills and attributes. This was partly about previous experience or training. Gender was another dimension of this. While most Project staff were female, Project managers believed that all-female teams were handicapped because in dealing with families containing adolescent boys, a male caseworker could provide a valuable role model and an improved chance of family member engagement with Project support.

2.25 Both by learning from experience, and from participation in various training courses, Project staff clearly became increasingly effective during the short lives of AFP and the BtC Projects. For the BtC Projects, however, the need to prove themselves over such a short timescale clearly presented a major challenge in these terms.

2.5 Service provision model, scale of activity and target groups

Outreach or residential provision

2.26 All five Projects provided services mainly on an 'outreach' basis - i.e. delivered by Project staff visiting service users in their own homes. Aberdeen and Dundee alone subscribed to a model including core residential accommodation. In Dundee this had been part of the service from the start. Aberdeen's aspiration for such a facility had been delayed by problems in procuring a suitable building but were finally realised in summer 2007. At DFP the core residential accommodation continued to be seen as central to the project's approach because, it was argued, the problems of 'the most difficult families' could not otherwise be adequately addressed.

2.27 BtC project interviewees expressed differing views on the desirability of having access to core residential facilities. At Falkirk, for example, the establishment of the Aberlour project on a purely 'outreach' basis, whilst unavoidable given the limited resources available, was seen as putting the scheme on a weaker footing than projects such as AFP and DFP. The implication was that any comparison of outcomes across projects needed to take account of this difference in resources.

2.28 South Lanarkshire interviewees, by contrast, contended that their non-residential model was not simply aimed at reducing costs 5; it was argued that a residential approach brought distinct disadvantages:

  • a residential setting was seen as 'too artificial' in removing a family from the community setting and making it difficult to engender appropriate behaviour towards neighbours
  • working with families in a residential setting implies subsequent disruption associated with resettlement.
  • because of the 'artificial' nature of the core block environment there may be doubts on whether improvements in behaviour achieved in such conditions can be maintained when a family is rehoused back into a mainstream tenancy (an issue also identified in Aberdeen).
  • Core block accommodation can stigmatise people and neighbourhoods.

2.29 In part, the thinking here was informed by the contention that the Shelter Families project had demonstrated effectiveness in delivering intensive support to chaotic families through a purely outreach model (Communities Scotland, 2002, Jones et al, 2006).

Scale of activity

2.30 All of the projects were set up to work intensively with a relatively small service user caseload. In purely numerical terms the recently-established BtC projects anticipated working with slightly smaller caseloads than AFP or DFP and this was to some extent reflected in practice. Caseloads as at September 2008 were as shown in Table 2.3.

Table 2.3 - Project caseloads, September 2008 (no. of families)

Project

Under assessment

Receiving Project support

Core block

Dispersed tenancy

Outreach

Total

Aberdeen

5

3

1

7

11

Dundee

1

3

1

9

13

Falkirk

2

-

-

14

14

P4 Perth

4

-

-

9

9

South Lanarkshire

2

-

-

11

11

Source: Projects. Note: the Dundee caseload figure cited here was described by the Project as 'unusually low'.

2.31 In considering the caseload and throughput of families supported by the Projects it should be borne in mind that not only do other agencies contribute to such support, but some of the Projects, themselves, provide services for a wider clientele. In Falkirk, for example, the Aberlour Project had developed a parenting programme which was provided to a wider cohort of families being assisted by the Social Work Department.

Eligibility criteria/target groups

2.32 All of the projects were targeted on households responsible for anti-social behaviour and at risk of eviction or having been excluded from social housing following eviction. All five were aimed, primarily, at family households (i.e. those including at least one child aged under 16), although P4 Perth was also willing to accept single people (and did so).

2.33 Eligibility for DFP services has traditionally been restricted to families who are the responsibility of the City Housing Department - either because they are council tenants at risk of eviction or because they are homeless households who have already lost their home due to ASB. At the time of the research, however, the possibility of accepting referrals from housing associations was under active consideration. This was explained as a recognition of the growing scale of associations as social housing providers in the locality.

2.34 Comparable eligibility criteria for the other four projects were as follows:

  • AFP - open to residents of any tenure
  • Falkirk - families currently or likely to become the responsibility of Falkirk Council Housing Services (i.e. under the homelessness legislation)
  • P4 Perth - open to residents of any tenure
  • South Lanarkshire - council tenants or those under the responsibility of the council's homelessness service (in practice, including housing association tenants under threat of ASB eviction).

2.35 Besides there having been substantial ASB on the part of family members, other important factors reported as having a bearing on families' priority /suitability for referral were:

  • The presence of children on the child protection register or at risk of needing to be looked after and accommodated
  • A family's perceived willingness to recognise the impact of their behaviour on others
  • A family's perceived willingness to engage with Project staff.

Earlier intervention?

2.36 Most households referred to Projects have been 'families previously known to various services' as ASB perpetrators and, as such, many had already been subject to 'enforcement action' - e.g. repossession or ASBO. However, being subject to such action was not a rigid eligibility requirement for any of the five Projects and this was seen by Project staff as entirely appropriate. Caseworkers in some Projects, nevertheless, considered that referred families were often so far down the track of family dysfunction and/or disintegration that addressing their needs ('turning their lives around') through Project support was a very tall order. It was frequently asserted that eligibility rules and procedures needed to be further relaxed to facilitate referrals at an earlier stage in a family's problems. According to this view, referrals needed to be made 'when most likely to be effective', even if this included families as yet subject to few, if any, enforcement actions 6.

2.37 In evaluating these views it is probably relevant to recognise that AFP and the BtC Projects were, at the time of the research, only recently-established. It seems possible that, as services previously unavailable, their initial caseloads may have been dominated by 'backlog cases', many involving families with a long history of problem behaviour and where referral could have been perceived by caseworkers as 'too late'. Assuming that Project lives are extended into the medium and longer term, it seems possible that a growing proportion of referrals involve newly emerging 'problem families'. Indeed, with respect to Dundee it was reported that just such a change had occurred over the years so that in recent times it had become possible to accept families at an earlier stage prior to any enforcement action so that a wider range of vulnerabilities could be taken into account. However, it was also evident that the most effective referrals coincide with family members being at a stage when they wish to address their problems and change their circumstances and behaviour.

2.38 Nevertheless, pressure for moves towards essentially preventative 'early intervention' could sit uneasily with the conception of IFSPs as primarily concerned with 'tackling anti-social behaviour'. Anti-social behaviour also represents a device for rationing access to the limited resource that a Project represents. This may explain tensions around what was perceived in one authority as 'project drift' whereby it was seen by local authority staff that the local IFSP team had moved away from a prime focus on ASB (i.e. towards families with acknowledged support needs but not necessarily posing a direct problem for neighbours).

2.6 Referral/assessment processes

Referral origins and outcomes

2.39 Across the five projects, the majority of referrals originated from housing departments - involving either estate managers, ASB/community safety offers or homelessness staff (see Table 2.4). Only in Falkirk was the pattern different, with Social Work referrals predominating. 'Other' agencies making referrals included housing associations, voluntary agencies and (in Dundee) Home School Support Workers (school-based social workers).

2.40 Of the 88 case referrals analysed in Table 2.4 only four were recorded as having been rejected by the relevant Project (two in Aberdeen and two in South Lanarkshire). Three of these four were recorded as having 'refused to engage' with Project staff seeking to progress their assessment. The rather low incidence of 'case rejections' probably reflects the reportedly common practice of informal pre-referral discussion between referring agencies and Projects which minimises the risk of referrals deemed 'inappropriate' in terms of formal eligibility criteria.

Table 2.4 - Source of referrals 2007-08

Project name

LA housing*

LA social work

Police

Other

Not known

Total

Aberdeen

7

2

1

4

14

Dundee

12

4

3

19

Falkirk

6

11

1

1

19

P4 Perth

16

5

1

22

South Lanarkshire

8

5

1

14

All projects

49

27

2

9

1

88

Source: inward referral monitoring returns. Note: excludes referrals received by AFP and DFP pre-2007. *Possibly in some instances involving ASB/community safety officers based in housing departments

2.41 There were some cases in certain Projects where referrals had included households not engaged in anti-social behaviour or without children, but (at least from the Projects' perspective) this issue had largely been resolved as awareness of referral criteria became more widespread amongst referral agencies. One Project acknowledged having discouraged a referral involving a family where the extent of criminal activity was judged to be too great. Another Project had turned down two cases where a family's reported behaviour was seen as placing Project staff at too great a risk. However, it would seem that possible referrals are very rarely rejected on the grounds that the family could be 'too difficult' for Projects to handle.

Assessment procedures

2.42 Following receipt of a referral, Projects typically performed an initial check on the household's eligibility (e.g. whether a family household), followed by an assessment period of several weeks duration. This was to determine whether a referred family was likely to benefit from the specific skills and services available through the Project (related to 'making best use of resources').

2.43 Typically, the assessment process involved (a) establishing the nature of problem behaviour and whether family members recognised the impact of their conduct on others, (b) building up a picture of family dynamics and family needs, and (c) assessing family members' willingness to work with the project to achieve change. This led to a decision on whether to accept the referral and, if so, also informed the initial Support Plan(s) drawn up for the family. In Dundee and - latterly - Aberdeen the assessment outcome also determined the form of provision to be offered (i.e. core block, dispersed tenancy or outreach).

2.44 According to inward referral monitoring data the median duration of assessments (i.e. the interval between receipt of a referral and an assessment decision) was 71 (calendar) days (see Table 2.5). This figure relates to all assessment decisions taken by the four projects for which sufficient data was available in the period 1 January 2007-30 June 2008. It should, however, be borne in mind that the figures for Dundee reflect exceptional circumstances in that the Project found itself forced to establish a waiting list in this period. This resulted from temporary staffing difficulties relating to long term sickness absence and secondment of staff to Aberdeen Families Project.

Table 2.5 - Typical duration* of referral assessments (calendar days)

Project

Maxmium

Minimum

Median

Aberdeen

237

48

80

Dundee

274

45

118

Falkirk

NA**

NA**

NA**

Perth

137

0

42

South Lanarkshire

267

6

39

All projects (other than Falkirk)

274

0

71

Source: Inward referral monitoring returns.**Assessment duration defined as the period between the date the referral was received by the Project and the date of the Project's formal decision on whether to accept the family for Project support. *Falkirk data not sufficiently complete

2.45 It is apparent from the table that in all Projects there were substantial variations in the length of time required for the assessment process. However, Project staff suggested that the small numbers of cases extending over apparently very long periods could reflect unusual circumstances such as cases being 'held over' pending the freeing up of caseworker time. Limited or sporadic co-operation on the part of a referred family could lead to the same outcome and hence it would be wrong to imagine that the duration of the assessment process is entirely in the hands of Project staff. It could take significant periods of time for project staff to overcome the initial scepticism some family members felt as a result of their history of antagonism with other agencies, and for trusting relationships to be established in order that engagement with the projects could occur. This had considerable knock-on consequences for the timescales required to deliver and/or complete programmes of support to families.

2.46 Final decisions on whether to accept referred households as service users were - at least in some cases - the responsibility of multi-agency steering groups (see Section 2.7). However, while a potentially useful co-ordinating mechanism, such processes could problematically delay decision-making. In one authority, for example, the need to work within the framework of a 3-monthly cycle of meetings was seen as contributing to unsatisfactory delays in completing referral assessments. In another, to overcome such problems, procedures had evolved so that such decisions could be achieved through telephone consultation with Panel members rather than requiring actual meetings.

2.7 Project governance and inter-organisational relationships

Governance

2.47 The five IFSPs were overseen by multi-agency groups bringing together representatives from relevant council departments (e.g. housing, social work) with senior managers from the contractor agency. South Lanarkshire is, of course, unique in this respect because its scheme is run in-house rather than out-sourced so there is no external contractor to participate in governance. Here, however, the representation of the local Shelter Families Project is seen as a means of reaching out to the voluntary sector.

2.48 In some instances - e.g. Aberdeen and Dundee - a single group played an oversight role in relation to both strategic and operational decisions. In others - e.g. Falkirk, P4 Perth - there were two distinct multi-agency oversight groups: one covering planning and management issues and one primarily responsible for decision making on referrals (who should be referred and/or which referrals should be accepted). Part of the value of a local 'screening group' could be a role of insulating project staff from political pressure which might be applied by local Elected Members lobbying for the Project to take on a particular family 7.

2.49 Governance arrangements as reported in each of the five IFSPs covered by the study are summarized below:

2..50 Aberdeen: Arrangements described in 'client/contractor' terms such that Aberdeen City Council specified, commissioning and contract managed the service, while Action for Children Scotland was responsible for service delivery. Aberdeen's Strategic Case Review ( SCR) panel brought together senior managers from the Council and Action for Children Scotland on a three-monthly cycle to consider both strategic matters and the progress of individual cases. Representation of local community safety managers had been found useful in linking the project more firmly with the corporate community safety agenda. Nevertheless, housing management had remained unrepresented and original plans to establish a complementary oversight group encompassing a wider range of stakeholders (e.g. the Police) had yet to be progressed in summer 2008.

2.51 Falkirk: Referrals were overseen by a screening group comprising Falkirk Council Housing and Social Work staff along with the Aberlour manager. The group's remit was to approve referrals being made to the project and/or to determine which referrals were accepted for project support following initial assessment. As in Aberdeen, the project was described as being governed according to the Council's service specification. There was also a broader project steering group with representation from Housing, Social Work and Central Scotland Police.

2.52 Dundee: An Admissions Panel was the main decision-making forum for the Project and was formally responsible for determining which families were accepted as service users. The Panel brought together Action for Children Scotland senior managers and City Council homelessness and social work staff. Initially, all referral decisions were closely scrutinised by the Panel with referrals only accepted if fully endorsed by all Panel members. Latterly, as relationships of trust had developed, the Panel had devolved operational decision-making powers to Action for Children Scotland staff. In practice, while DFP staff have come to enjoy a degree of devolved autonomy, Panel members continued to be consulted by telephone with respect to any case considered likely to be contentious. At the time of the research the panel continued to act as the Project's prime line of accountability and retained a role of monitoring the Project's caseload and the progress/status of specific cases, as well as more strategic decision-making.

2.53 Perth & Kinross: The Council had established a Strategic Partnership Group to oversee the project. Chaired by a senior Housing & Community Care manager, this brought together staff from housing, social work, environmental services, education & children's services, health and the police, as well as Action for Children Scotland. A parallel multi-agency group oversaw operational decision-making - though was not intended to sit in judgement on individual referrals.

2.54 South Lanarkshire: The project's operation was overseen by a Project Steering Group which brought together representatives from key departments - Housing & Technical Resources, Criminal Justice, Children & Families and Education. As noted above, the group also included the South Lanarkshire Shelter Families Project.

Developing relationships with partner agencies

2.55 Both in relation to collaboration over referrals and subsequent service provision, IFSPs must establish close working relationships with local authority departments and other local partners. Project staff interviewees recognised the importance of building and maintaining such relationships. Aberlour CCT, for example, identified four key mechanisms for achieving this:

  • Publicising the project's existence
  • Accurately informing partner agencies of the project's aims, scope and limitations
  • Managing on-going relationships with agency staff - e.g. providing informative feedback to explain reasons for rejecting referrals
  • Embedding the project within partner agency strategies and procedures.

2.56 Nevertheless, it was clear - especially from the final round of fieldwork - that Projects faced major challenges in raising their local profile and establishing their credibility with some key local stakeholders. Part of this was about bridging cultural divides between IFSPs and some local interlocutors. For example, some housing managers and anti-social behaviour officers had apparently viewed the initial establishment of local IFSPs with considerable scepticism. The notion that anti-social behaviour could be stemmed by helping 'problem families' to improve their lifestyles and conduct seems to have been considered somewhat idealistic.

2.57 By summer 2008 - almost two years down the line for the BtC projects - the demonstrable commitment of Project staff and their success in stemming ASB on the part of some locally notorious families had in, certain cases, begun to erode such preconceptions. For example, some of the projects had been the subject of favourable local media coverage or supportive visits bv local councillors. Nevertheless, it was perceived by some Project staff that inter-professional cultural tensions (i.e. the 'person-centred' social work worldview - as primarily embraced by Project staff versus the 'community-centred' housing/ ASB staff perspective) continued to present a challenge, albeit on a reduced scale.

2.58 While local authority ASB teams are crucial local partners for IFSPs, there were some challenges to be overcome in establishing a shared view of the world. As reported by one Project, for example, there can be a 'huge culture gap' between IFSPs and specialist ASB Units - a reference to the 'enforcement-minded' mentality characteristic of the latter and which may jar with the supportive IFSP ethos. This gap reflects the balance between support, enforcement and child protection that was required in the management of the families. In most of the projects, it was regarded as a strength that Project workers were not directly involved in pursuing or contributing to enforcement measures.

2.59 A practical concern relating to such tensions involved what some Projects had found to be an unexpectedly limited volume of appropriate referrals from housing management and/or ASB (community safety) staff and the belief on the part of Project staff that this reflected lack of confidence in the BtC model among some of those concerned. Another factor could have been referral agency staff turnover presenting a challenge in terms of maintaining awareness of a Project's existence and role.

2.60 Tensions could also arise in relationships between IFSPs and their Social Work colleagues. The latter sometimes expressed reservations about Project staff coming to identify too closely with service user families. Conversely, in cases where Project staff were seen as 'lobbying' for children to be placed on the Child Protection Register this could be seen by Social Work staff as implying criticism of their professional judgement.

2.61 The strength of relationships between the Projects and local police appeared to vary; while there were some instances of police representation on oversight groups, in other authorities there appeared to be little if any regular contact.

2.8 Funding

2.62 The five projects were funded in a variety of ways:

  • The three BtC projects were fully funded by Scottish Executive grant for the two year pilot period
  • DFP was fully funded from Dundee City Council's Supporting People budget
  • AFP was funded 75% from the Council's ASB budget and 25% from the Homelessness budget. All of these monies were sourced from the then Scottish Executive.

2.63 The short term nature of guaranteed funding was seen as highly problematic in all four areas working with recently-established projects. As noted above, this had serious implications for staff recruitment and retention as well as for long-term service planning.

2.64 The Aberdeen and Dundee projects benefited significantly from 'in kind' support from their local authority partners. At AFP, the £400K capital cost of setting up the core residential block was being financed from the Council's housing capital account. At DFP such support was received from the City housing department in the form of rent-free dispersed tenancies as well as gratis use of core residential and office accommodation.

2.65 AFP staff counterposed their project's £450K annual budget with the £9K weekly cost of placing children in care (which would sum to almost identical total over 12 months for a single child). Similarly, one South Lanarkshire interviewee noted that the SLC annual project costs originally estimated at £400K needed to be seen within the context of substantial consequential savings - e.g. weekly costs of approx £4.5k for placements in residential schools.