This House of Commons Library briefing looks at the design, policy debate, outcomes and results of the Troubled Families programme in England, a targeted family intervention programme run by local authorities.

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The Troubled Families Programme (henceforth the ‘TF Programme’ or ‘Programme’) is a programme of targeted intervention for families with multiple problems, including crime, anti-social behaviour, truancy, unemployment, mental health problems and domestic abuse. One aim of the Programme is to tackle issues before they require costlier interventions. The Government also hopes to drive wider system change at the local level, including the adoption of a ‘whole family approach’ and better multi-agency working.

Staff funded by the Programme identify ‘troubled families’ in their area and usually assign a keyworker to each family, acting as a single point of contact. The Government uses a ‘payment-by-results’ model to incentivise positive outcomes. This involves both an upfront attachment fee to local authorities and a reward payment for each family that shows sustained improvement across set criteria or moves into continuous employment.

The first phase of the TF Programme is explained in section one of this paper. £448 million was allocated to the first phase which ran from 2012 to 2015. Local authorities worked with around 120,000 families, and ‘turned around’ 99%. This figure was later disputed when an independent evaluation of the Programme (published in October 2016) found no evidence that it had made any significant impact across its key objectives. The Government subsequently committed to carrying out a more robust evaluation of the Programme’s impact during its second phase, alongside statutory annual reports.

The second phase of the Programme was launched in 2015. £920 million was allocated to help an additional 400,000 families. Following a Government announcement in January 2020, the second phase is now running to March 2021, with annual progress reporting until 2022. Section two of this paper explains the ongoing phase of the Programme.

An impact evaluation, supported by a Technical Advisory Group, is assessing the impact of the Programme in phase two. An independent qualitative study is also being undertaken by Ipsos MORI. Section three of this paper outlines the most recent findings published in March 2019; Annex A lists the other reports that have been published for phase two.

Qualitative data from staff involved in the Programme suggests that the second phase has been effective in initiating change at a local level. According to feedback, participant families see the benefit of the initiative.

Efforts to conduct a more rigorous analysis of family outcomes are ongoing as the evaluation establishes a robust comparative group outside of the Programme. By March 2019, comparative data indicated that the Programme had reduced the number of Looked After Children, as well as the number of custodial sentences and convictions. However, in areas such as employment, Children in Need, health, and school attendance, evidence was either mixed, showed little change, or had not yet been possible to analyse.

The 2019 cost-benefit analysis suggested that the Programme had resulted in economic and fiscal benefits to the taxpayer and wider society.  These benefits had mainly been realised through reductions in the number of Children in Care and youth offending.

Despite Ministers’ continued support of the Programme’s aims, including the January 2020 announcement of funding extending the Programme for a year, it is unclear if it will be funded beyond March 2021.

The TF Programme is administered by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG, formerly the Department for Communities and Local Government, DCLG) and covers England only.

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