Housing and early intervention
Last week I spoke at the National Housing Federation ‘Care and Support’ conference in Manchester, about the role of housing in supporting early intervention and in identifying needs in communities that might otherwise have remained hidden.
The homes and the communities that families live in are a vital part of their lives. Housing associations (HAs) have an important role to play in helping ensuring that families who are able to receive and benefit from support early on in the onset of issues are enabled to do so. They also have huge influence over the community environment in which families work to overcome their difficulties. Housing providers can be well placed to be among the first to spot signs of difficulties with debt, antisocial behaviour, and even challenges like domestic violence.
Sharing information and data when they spot families who are experiencing difficulties, playing a central role in coordinated assessments, and ‘team around the family’ responses, or even being the lead agency in these arrangements, can help ensure that families’ housing and far wider needs are addressed promptly and effectively.
Many housing associations are already providing, or are well engaged in, family intervention projects (FIPs), and work at an intensive end of need to address complex problems that may have otherwise led to the breakdown of a tenancy and other negative outcomes. HAs from across the country approached me to describe the well-established FIPs they are running to address entrenched problems within families, as well as community projects supplementing these by focussing on supporting skills development, employment and volunteering opportunities. HAs described being involved in panels that considered the needs of vulnerable young people at risk of homelessness, and developing new projects with local statutory and voluntary sector agencies, to identify and act on domestic violence and ASB in their communities.
Beyond this however, there are also some great examples of where HAs are leading the way on earlier interventions. In Tower Hamlets, Poplar HARCA developed an earlier intervention model working at a less intensive level than the FIP, identifying families at risk of losing their home, based on rent arrears, and offering a briefer model of ten week’s one-to-one support, with added community-based groups and peer support networks.
The questions I was asked by HAs at the conference demonstrate how similar the challenges and opportunities facing local agencies are. Questions on weighing up where to invest money in times of reducing resources, and whether it’s best to invest in fewer, more intensive and expensive interventions, or more, cheaper light-touch work; how to invest early when so much spend is tied up late; how to work effectively with other agencies when there are so many competing demands, priorities, projects and activities; how to plan and make decisions on services that can overall respond to the complex needs of families whose situations are all different and challenging… The problems being considered by local agencies are similar across services and sectors.
EIF is working to help local commissioners overcome these challenges; one of the lessons of this conference for me is that we mustn’t forget the voices of the providers and partners in the process. Many of our EI Places have all their partners very well engaged, but there is still more work to do overall to ensure that everyone contributing to the EI picture locally is really as engaged as they can be in responding as strongly and coherently as it is possible to do with everyone working together.
Where HAs are providing services and support for families already, sometimes there may be opportunities for those to be better joined up with wider local provision, and to draw from, and contribute to, the evidence base on EI.
HAs should consider whether they are as actively engaged as they could be in local EI planning and strategy development, in being a part of the whole picture gathered of services delivered in the area, and in thinking about how community assets, strengths, services and spaces can best be leveraged to deliver EI well. They might also benefit from considering whether data and information held is shared and used as effectively as possible to information community needs assessments at a population level, and also to inform identification of families who might benefit from EI on an individual level. If there are any signs and triggers picked up about possible predictors of future problems, this information might be vital to know more broadly. And even if there aren’t, shared information on families who may already be known to other services can help build a much fuller picture of needs.
HAs hold vital information and data on families, have direct daily access to the communities in which families live, and often provide services, projects and activities themselves that are working to help improve families’ lives. There is great work going on within HAs and in local partnerships to make the most of this. However, where HAs are not already being engaged in TAFs and early help assessments, invited around the table to contribute to discussions about the totality of services and support on offer locally, involved in discussions about future ways to work with families, and helping add to the local and national evidence base, as with all aspects of EI, there is always more work to do.