Louise Casey: Social workers 'collude' with problem families
Too many social workers are "colluding" with parents to make excuses for their children's behaviour, troubled families tsar Louise Casey has said.
Ms Casey said social workers had to be more assertive and tell families the "honest truth" about their problems.
They also had to be firmer with colleagues in other agencies and not worry about being "nice", she added.
Ms Casey was speaking at the Local Government Association's annual conference in Manchester.
The troubled families intervention programme was one of the winners in this month's spending review, with an additional £200m to extend it to a further 400,000 households.
Ms Casey, a civil servant who was formerly Tony Blair's "respect" tsar and led the Labour government's assault on anti-social behaviour, is reported to have driven a hard bargain with ministers.
She claims the scheme, which targets the most "high risk" families in England and Wales with intensive coaching and support to tackle joblessness, truancy and anti-social behaviour, saves councils money by cutting the numbers of children being taken into care or excluded from mainstream education.
Ministers say the current three-year scheme is already on track to help 120,000 families in England by 2015.
But Ms Casey said the programme should be extended further to tackle inter-generational problems in families.
She told the LGA conference: "We know it works. We're proving it works. It saves money... there is an opportunity here we can't ignore to get to grips with the chaos and help these families change."
And she said the next phase would be about reforming the attitude of local authorities and social workers towards the families they are trying to help, as much as the families themselves.
"This time around we cannot collude with parents to find excuses for failure. The price paid by their children is too great."
She called on social workers to be more "authoritative" and "challenging" with families - and also in meetings with other agencies during "serious case reviews".
Explaining what she meant afterwards, Ms Casey said: "There is a lack of decision making, things are open-ended, there are lots of meetings, lots of discussions, but nothing's closed down.
"And some of that is because it's quite hard to challenge people isn't it?
"You are in a partnership meeting and everybody wants to be nice to each other.
"Well I'm saying... I don't really mind whether you're nice or not nice.
"We need to make sure we tackle the problems with the families so if you a not doing your job you need to be challenged on it.
"It's the same with families who need to be told the honest truth."
She said family intervention co-ordinators took a tougher, more straightforward approach than traditional social workers: "They crack on. They get on with the job and they are quite assertive people."
And they were not afraid to intervene in the private lives of their clients if they thought it was necessary.
"Some of these women are on child protection plans because of the men they insist on living with.
"Family intervention is about getting in there and saying 'actually, you know your kids are going to be taken away if you don't do something about this fella - I'll help you do it'. And they do."
Ms Casey was praised from the conference floor by several council leaders - but others pointed out that the work of her unit was being undermined by government spending cuts - such as the benefit cap and cuts to Sure Start children's centres.
Ms Casey said she was "not a government minister" and could not fix the economy - but she insisted the programme was saving councils money.