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The Chancellor may not have mentioned it in his autumn statement, but a shining light amidst austerity is the Government’s commitment to the Troubled Families Programme.

Family Action is a charity providing early intervention services to disadvantaged families and children throughout England. At any one time we work intensively in the home with up to 2,000 families who would be of interest to local authorities under the filter criteria for the Troubled Families Programme which include factors like ill health, disability, domestic violence and child protection concerns.

Around a quarter of these families would also meet the Payment By Results criteria because in addition to workless adults they contain children not attending school or who are excluded from school.

The Government is right that for too long a range of statutory agencies have circulated around these families without delivering outcomes for them. Major system changes need to be made in ways of working and funding at the local level to help these families including a more joined-up key worker approach and the TFP is a practical response to this issue.

However, just as the Government is pursuing a more urgent, joined up approach to turning around these families’ futures, the education and NHS reforms – chiefly academisation and the creation of clinical commissioning consortia – will arguably cause a level of service fragmentation which makes access more difficult for the disadvantaged.

This is important because our research on Troubled Families and school attendance shows that many children who are truants or excluded from school are living in families where they or adults have disabilities or long term health conditions, including mental health difficulties, for which schools and health and social care have failed to provide them with adequate support.

The right attitude to partnership working by schools and health services is therefore as badly needed as the Troubled Families Programme in order to resolve these issues. However funding through the different pools of money – TFP PBR monies, the pupil premium and CCG budgets – may just generate more service silos rather than reduce them.

Awareness is also not helped by the nationally available school attendance data which tells us that the main reason for children’s schools absence is illness but doesn’t tell us enough about the impact of long term illness or disability in the family on attendance. The sharing of this information at the national and local level needs to be improved so there can be a better understanding of the impact of these difficulties on attendance and for suitable support to be put in place.

The forthcoming Children and Families Bill contains a duty for local authorities to provide a local offer to children with special educational needs. This is relevant to the TFP because, as the research into Family Intervention Projects showed, Troubled Families contain higher than average numbers of these children.

However, our experience suggests the Bill needs to go much further to include children with disabilities and chronic illness so as to improve educational chances. It could also be argued that at the moment a statutory right to education exists in any case for those with special educational needs. The difficulty has always been whether there is sufficient local provision, and whether parents can enforce a demand for certain health and social care services for their children. Unfortunately the Children and Families Bill does not so far reinforce the local offer with any extra statutory rights in respect of what health and social care must offer locally.

This does not make sense when you consider the important steps the Government has been taking to ensure special educational needs and other developmental difficulties are identified earlier, for example through the provision of the disadvantaged two year offer in children’s centres, the new responsibilities on early years providers to report to parents on children’s development milestones from age two, and the two-year-old check conducted by health visitors.

What is the point of the early identification of families containing children with special educational needs and other difficulties if there is no right to joined up help from health, social care and education provision from the earliest possible years?

The difficulty is compounded by the real terms cuts to the Early Intervention Grant: there will necessarily be limits on optimising the outcomes that the two-year-old offer delivers in children’s centres if specialist early intervention services for at risk children and families are cut back.

The evidence shows that without both early identification and intervention these children will more likely grow up to truant and be excluded from school and to contribute to the creation of the Troubled Families of the future.

The TFP represents a step forward in joined up working for disadvantaged families – but joined up policy on early intervention will require much more.

Rhian Beynon is Head of Policy and Campaigns at Family Action.

Follow Rhian on Twitter: @familyaction

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