Louise Casey calls for new approach on 'troubled families'

Louise Casey: "This is about changing the behaviour in the families"

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Social workers have been urged to get "on the sofas" of England's most dysfunctional families to help them break a "grim" cycle of abuse.

Government adviser Louise Casey said some households could get daily visits as part of a scheme to target 120,000 of the most troubled families.

In a report for ministers she details a picture of welfare dependency and sexual abuse going back generations.

She said it was "wrong that we allow them to carry on living this way".

The government says 120,000 "troubled families" in England cost taxpayers £9bn every year - and want to turn their lives around by 2015.

Ms Casey insisted the evidence showed these families could change - despite mixed results from initiatives she was involved in under the previous Labour government.

She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It's not about left wing, it's not about right wing, it's about doing the right thing and the right thing is... to get our sleeves rolled up nationally, locally and in these people's lives."

'Hugely difficult'

The programme's £448m budget covers three years and only applies in England, with the government promising to pay county councils and unitary authorities up to £4,000 per eligible family to work on reducing truancy, cutting youth crime and anti-social behaviour, and encouraging parents into work.

Ms Casey said the initiative would save money in the long-term as troubled families were currently "absorbing huge amounts of resources" - in one case £200,000 a year.

Start Quote

It is vital that we do not lay blame for this country's issues solely at the doors of parents, but look much more broadly at the huge issues affecting this country's children and their families”

End Quote Enver Solomon Children's Society

She said it was "a hugely difficult problem" to break the "grim" cycle of abuse and violence that carries on "from one generation to the next" and social workers needed to take a more hands-on approach and focus more intensely on the lives of individual families.

"A lot of them at the moment are simply circling around the families, assessing them and prodding them, but we are not getting in... and seriously changing the families for the next generation of children," she told BBC News.

After last year's riots in England, the government asked local authorities to identify troubled families and appointed Ms Casey - Tony Blair's former "respect czar" - to help devise new policies.

She interviewed 16 families to compile a report about the task facing the government.

Ms Casey's report says many of these families have histories of sexual abuse and welfare dependency dating back many years.

She said domestic violence was often endemic and "entrenched cycles of suffering problems and causing problems" contaminate relationships.

'Shocking'

Ms Casey's report said: "The prevalence of child sexual and physical abuse and sometimes child rape was striking and shocking."

She said problems such as sexual abuse, teenage pregnancies, domestic violence, juvenile delinquency and educational failure were often repeated by different generations.

Ms Casey said: "It became clear that in many of these families the abuse of children by in many cases parents, siblings, half-siblings and extended family and friends was a factor in their dysfunction.

"Some discussed it as if as it was almost expected and just a part of what they had experienced in life. Children often had not been protected by their parents."

She said the authorities needed to understand the complex histories of these families.

"I am not making excuses for any family failing to send their kids to school or causing trouble in their community. However unless we really understand what it is about these families that means they behave in this way, we can't start to turn their lives around."

'Impact of austerity'

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said: "I welcome this report as an important part of that process as it provides a real insight into these families' dysfunctional lives.

"My civil servants are not just sitting in an office in Whitehall telling local authorities what to do but seeking to gain a true understanding of the challenges they face."

But campaigners said Ms Casey's focus was too "narrow".

"It is vital that we do not lay blame for this country's issues solely at the doors of parents, but look much more broadly at the huge issues affecting this country's children and their families," said Enver Solomon, policy director at the Children's Society.

"The impact of austerity measures, recession and some other major issues hitting children and their families hard have largely been overlooked."

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