We spoke to Supporting Families Employment Advisers, Vicki Williamson and Stephen Grattan, and Partnership Manager Jenny Stanton, about the Supporting Families service and their relationship with Stockport’s Family Drug and Alcohol Court.
Supporting Families began in 2012, under its original name: The Troubled Families Programme. At its heart this national service is about locally delivered help for families, led by the key workers and local partners who know their areas and families best. The service supports families facing acute problems, whilst also helping to deal with emerging concerns through early help that takes a whole family approach. The service set out to champion multi-agency working to support vulnerable families, that is, those experiencing multiple disadvantages such as worklessness, domestic abuse, poor mental health and child specific needs. Supporting Families tracks outcomes, emphasises key principles and provides a framework for multi-agency support, rather than prescribing specific models, so local authorities and agencies have flexibility to invest according to local need.
In Stockport there is no specific Supporting Families service, rather they use a locally established service called Stockport Family which is governed through the Supporting Families Executive. Stockport Family brings together people who work with children, young people and families, to make it easier for families in Stockport to get the right support at the right time.
Nationally, Supporting Families partnered with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to roll-out the Supporting Families Employment Advisers (SFEAs) to link job centre staff into the service. This means that locally under Stockport’s model, the SFEAs are linked into the broader Stockport Family network and its Prevention and Early Help Strategy. For example, as part of this strategy the borough of Stockport has set up the Multi-Agency Safeguarding and Support Hub (MASSH), a point of contact for the public and professionals to report concerns, request advice and share information about a child and or family. The MASSH is a referral point into engaging with a SFEA, along with referrals from a number of other support agencies. From here SFEAs can help families with job searches, interview and CV skills, money management, work experience and they can source funding to provide training provision, sometimes in quite niche areas.
The role of a SFEA reaches beyond the confines of a meeting room. SFEAs conduct home visits, reach into schools, community centres; where they set-up community job hubs to provide more caring personal support to families than that found in the traditional JobCentre environment. Having a linked system of support such as Stockport Families allows SFEAs not only to support with employment and employment training, which is within the remit of the DWP and JobCentre Plus, but also provide more holistic support by signposting individuals and families to partner support services which work within the Stockport Families framework. This can include support with; housing, domestic abuse issues, substance misuse and mental health issues. SFEAs also work closely with children and young people, particularly if they have been referred to them through MASSH, social services or schools.
The work done by Stockport Families and the SFEAs is tailored towards breaking cycles of unemployment, poor educational and skills attainment, truancy, youth crime and anti-social behaviour and putting people back onto the path to work; while giving families and the individuals the skills to prepare them for school, work and parenthood.
Family Drug and Alcohol Court referrals
The Supporting Families Employment Advisers started working with the Stockport Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) in May 2021. FDACs are alternative family courts for care proceedings, which are specially designed to work with parents who struggle with drug and alcohol misuse. However, parents coming into FDAC will often have other difficulties as well, including mental health problems and experiences of domestic abuse. You can find out more about FDACs here.
At the time of writing, Stockport's SFEAs have had nine families referred to them from Stockport FDAC. These have come from families who have expressed that they wanted to engage with the SFEAs to help them to gain the skills they needed. Taking small steps to begin a journey towards work, stability, and to ultimately remain with, or be reunited with, their children through working with the SFEAs and FDAC teams.
Here we have included a good news story which we sought permission to include from an FDAC parent who was referred into the SFEA programme. The in-depth testimonial is written from the perspective of their SFEA. To protect the parent’s identity we are calling her “JL”.
JL was referred into FDAC after her children were removed from her care following her being involved in a physical fight in a local park in front of one of her children. JL was under the influence of alcohol at the time and shared that she had been drinking dependently for a number of months. She was also using cannabis to manage her anger on a daily basis and had been doing so since the age of eight. JL was brought up in the care system and had been in and out of prison since she was 11 – her sentences were largely for physical assaults.
JL worked with the FDAC team to achieve abstinence in her alcohol use and a significant reduction in her cannabis use (she continues to work towards abstinence here). She was supported to connect with her emotions in a healthy way and learn new ways to regulate herself, with a specific focus on her anger. JL was also supported to understand how her traumatic childhood experiences were impacting her functioning and behaviours as an adult and to support her to develop self-compassion to understand herself better and make changes to her unsafe behaviours.
JL has worked extremely hard during the FDAC process and the children have recently been rehabilitated into her care. JL was referred to me at the end of the “Trial for Change” (an FDAC intervention plan) as she had identified that she wanted to continue making changes in her life and that a goal she would like to achieve would be to study hairdressing. JL wanted to show her children that the changes she had made were for good and that she was living a different life now away from prison sentences, fighting and substance misuse.
I received the referral from FDAC and we discussed JL and her complexities and I explained that I would contact her to offer my support. Initially, JL did not answer so I sent a pre-text explaining who I was and to get her to store my number. Often an unrecognised number will not be answered.
I had a good chat with JL and found out a lot of background as to what her interests were, what she has done previously and where she would like to be in the future. I agreed to do some research and also to attend the FDAC sessions (this was done remotely due to COVID) and a good relationship was formed.
The long term goal for JL was to work in hair and beauty – hopefully on a self-employed basis. I explained that she would be best taking small steps towards this so as not to take on too much with everything else going on in her life.
I was able to use my contacts within DWP and my local knowledge to find a number of courses that may have been suitable and we discussed each one at length along with the advantages and disadvantages of each. It was decided that as JL had no formal qualifications in English, this would be her starting point and it would also give an indication as to how keen JL was to move forward and her commitment. The hairdressing courses JL wished to get on had a minimum entry requirement of English (level 3) so it would be needed in the future should she wish to pursue this. I also explained however, this would be beneficial for all other aspects of her life including supporting her children with homework/ reading etc.
I contacted the local college and they provided me with the information on enrolment and I relayed this to JL who was supported with the application. She was subsequently invited in for an interview and then offered a place on the course. JL said it was a real boost to hear that people thought she could study and have an education. She had never really attended school and didn’t have any qualifications. She was really nervous before her interview for the college and thought about not going as she was sure she would fail to get on the course. When she found out she had got a place she said she was really proud of herself and couldn’t wait to tell her children that their mum was going to be able to study. She hopes to be able to get on a hairdressing course in the future and is really excited to show her children that their life can be different.
I have also discussed self-employment with JL so she knows that I can support her with this process when the time is right. I have contacts with a training provider locally who can offer practical advice on self-employment, support in creating a business plan, help with marketing/bookkeeping/tax & insurance and all other areas of setting up alone.
JL’s journey may be a long one, but without the continued support from the FDAC and SFEA team, I feel it is one that may never have started and JL may have quite easily got lost in the system had it not been for our intervention.
This case-study was compiled by Jason Watt in 2021