And now for a bit of good news! Although a lot of child support services have been closed down – there is still a limited programme of support for vulnerable families in the district.
Since April last year, Suffolk Coastal have provided intensive support to 15 families, working with them to help them with issues that are affecting the quality of their lives.
The work is carried out by Family Intervention Officer, Claire Hankers who works in a small team to help families who may be dealing with a number of different problems. The team work with some of the most chaotic families in the district, often dealing with cases being held at Child in Need or Child Protection level as well as problems such as mental health, issues regarding housing, education, employment, debt problems, chronic health problems or social isolation.
The Family Focus role is part of the Suffolk Family Focus initiative which was formed in response to the Government’s Troubled Families Programme, launched nationwide by the government in response to 2011 riots across the country.
The purpose of the role is to provide intensive support to families within the area and enables troubled families to make real and sustainable changes, in order to improve their quality of life.
The support is provided through one Family Intervention officer working with the family to identify the issues affecting the quality of their lives, to take responsibility for their own progression and development and to agree the appropriate course of action and support required.
For a family to receive support through the initiative, a family will need to meet two or more criteria including; parents and children involved in crime or anti social behaviour, children who have not been attending school regularly, children needing help or are subject to a child protection plan, adults out of work or at risk of financial exclusion or young people at risk of not gaining employment, families affected by domestic violence or abuse or families with a range of health problems.
Claire explains: “Rather than a family having to deal with lots of different professionals, my role gives a family one point of contact and one person who they can build trust with.
“My job is not about giving families a quick fix. It’s about helping the whole family work through their problems and give them the tools, advice and guidance they need to help them become sustainable in improving their lives.”
For Claire, everyday is different. One day she could be helping run a half term holiday session and the next she could be attending a support group to help someone manage their substance misuse.
She said: “I love my job because it’s not just about ticking a box. It’s taking the time to listen and get to know a family to identify the problems which are preventing them going forward.
“Some of the issues I help families with, may not seem massive to some people, but small things like helping somebody access a sensory class for their child with learning difficulties can help give them the confidence to motivate other changes in their life.”
Claire’s says the family focus role has a different approach in that families are rewarded when they make good progress.
“For most of the families I work with, they often don’t have the time or funds to be able to enjoy good times together. Through working with charities and partner organisations, we’re able to give them opportunities they wouldn’t normally have like going away for days out together and we’ve seen what a positive boost this has on them.”
On average, £12,000 is saved for each family that is turned around as it reduces the pressure on the local authority and partner organisations finances and resources.
Claire said: “The great part about my role within the Council, is that I’m in a position to easily access other departments and partner organisations to help solve an issue quickly for a family.
Claire often stays in touch with many of the families she has worked with and can help a family for a year after they have finished working with Claire.
Cllr Steve Gallant, Cabinet Member for Community Health at Suffolk Coastal District Council, said: “The Family Focus role has a powerful impact on the lives of struggling families in our communities and it is continually proving to be a lifeline to them and our district as a whole.
“The role is about not leaving families behind and not letting them slip through the net. This is a bespoke service that helps families become sustainable in their progress to help them become stronger and more independent.
“Without the hard work of Claire and her team, our local authorities and support services would be under even more pressure and I hope the initiative remains a permanent fixture in the councils offer to the community.”
For more information about the Suffolk Family Focus and for contact details, visit: www.suffolklearning.co.uk/cms/view_folder.asp?rootid=6&depth=3&level1=6&level1id=6&level2=129&level2id=129&nextlevel=2251&folderid=2251
Suffolk Coastal District Council adopted the Suffolk Family Focus initiative in June 2013 with the appointment of a Family Intervention Officer in August 2014 to deliver the Suffolk Family Focus objectives in Suffolk Coastal.
Suffolk Family Focus offers social return on investment opportunities by reducing pressure on Suffolk Coastal District Council and partner organisations finances and resources through addressing the underlining issues.