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Intensive support stops antisocial behaviour

Intensive support for families who commit antisocial behaviour (ASB) is a cost-effective and extremely successful way to reduce problem behaviour, prevent family breakdown and avoid homelessness for the families involved, according to an independent report published today.

Interim findings from a three year evaluation of ASB Intensive Family Support Projects indicate that in 85 per cent of cases intensive support resulted in families changing their behaviour so that ASB complaints either stopped completely or dropped dramatically. In 92 per cent of cases case workers assessed that the risk to communities had either reduced or stopped completely following the intervention.

The report studied six ASB rehabilitation projects offering multi-disciplinary support for families to resolve the underlying causes of ASB, either by offering support to families in their own homes or by moving them to managed accommodation.

The study, led by Judy Nixon from the Centre for Education Research and Social Inclusion at Sheffield Hallam University, and published by the Department for Local Government and Communities, found that this type of intensive support successfully addressed the myriad of health and social care needs of the families involved, and that the projects delivered value for money, both in the short and longer term.

The study focused on 256 families who were referred to the projects after their behaviour had resulted in them being threatened by eviction and homelessness. The three main types of ASB reported were youth nuisance (70 per cent), general neighbour conflicts (54 per cent) and property damage (43 per cent).

The families referred to the projects shared a number of key characteristics. 62 per cent of the families had three or more children and many of them were reported as having high, multiple support needs. Poor mental health and/or substance misuse affected 80 per cent of the adults referred to the project and many had mental health problems, with 59 per cent suffering from depression and a further 21 per cent being affected by other mental health problems. Very high levels of family violence were also reported, with 47 per cent of the families reporting either intimate partner violence or intergenerational violence.

The children referred to the project had a high incidence of behavioural problems, with almost one in five being diagnosed with ADHD, as compared to three to eight per cent of school age children in the general population.

Four in ten of the families were deemed by case workers to be at risk in some way, with children in 38 per cent of the families considered to be at a high or medium risk of being taken into care.

Judy Nixon, senior lecturer at the Centre for Education Research and Social Inclusion at Sheffield Hallam University and leader of the study explains, "This study shows that anti-social behaviour is often only one outward symptom of a family with a range of problems. By addressing the needs of these families and offering the support they need the behaviour can be prevented.

"All of the projects we analysed succeeded because a number of different agencies worked together to help each individual family. These projects are not quick fix solutions but they do work and the costs of doing nothing and allowing a family to break down are far higher.

"By preventing family breakdown and homelessness the projects save a number of agencies both time and money. Without the support of the ASB projects these families may have broken down and required services related to housing, criminal justice, policing, education and health. There are also many benefits to society as neighbourhoods and communities become more pleasant, safer places to live.

"The research findings to date indicate that intensive support is a very effective way of dealing with ASB and we will be tracking families involved in the projects over the longer term in order to see whether the changes in behaviour are sustained."

Housing Minister, Baroness Andrews, welcomed the report:”This research shows that IFSPs can play an important part in comprehensive local strategies to tackle the underlying causes of problem behaviour and use of appropriate sanctions to support and protect the wider community.

"The evidence supports the Government’s roll-out of family support projects to 50 local authorities by 2007. We want the lessons from this research to be more widely known and taken up.”

Donna Goodwin | alfa
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