Cllr Louise Goldsmith is the Leader of West Sussex County Council
One of the reasons Councillors stand for election is to make a difference to peoples’ lives. Certainly a main reason for me – which is why I’m proud that in just two years we in West Sussex have got the lives of more than 750 families back on track.
Equally I’m really proud too that we have helped 400 long-term unemployed off benefits and back into work.
In West Sussex we’re making the government’s welfare reforms a reality, intervening to help those families most in need.
The West Sussex Think Family Partnership is our version of the government’s Troubled Families initiative.
Under this programme we are the leading authority for getting people back in employment.
Like Conservative Home, we believe that while much of the good work goes on below the radar, the Think Family initiative is a real
Conservative success story. We all know the value of a hand up far exceeds that of a hand out.
That’s why we’re delighted the government is going ahead with phase two, and we can continue our work and commitment to turn around more West Sussex lives.
So who do we help, and how?
Our Think Family scheme works with families in debt, with drug or alcohol problems, with mental or physical health concerns.
As Eric Pickles said, those are families that are “stuck in a rut”.
In some cases there might be a history of domestic violence. The children might not be attending school or could be getting into trouble. The whole family could be in danger of being evicted.
Of course in many instances we have known who these families are for years – they’re not new to us and in some cases it is generation after generation – but, for a variety of reasons, despite various initiatives, nobody has really managed to work with them successfully.
But by coordinated work with partners, building trust, and with a major amount of persistence, Think Family is succeeding in convincing them how much better their lives will be if they help us to help them.
The first step involves a dedicated keyworker – like family nurses for example – creating a plan both for the family as a whole and for individual family members. Although the process is consensual there’s absolutely a no-nonsense approach. The good news is that very few families decide not to stick with it.
The families then have dedicated help for between 9 and 18 months (depending on the level of need), working through their often complex problems.
It works because it is tailored; because it is targeted. It also works because we are joining up the public sector. So instead of our families receiving help from lots of different sources, they receive the full support they need through someone dedicated to their care and wellbeing.
We have also joined forces with those working to place people in employment, with Job Centre Plus and also with the private sector and our local colleges to link our families to opportunities in the job market.
Yes, we may have got hundreds back in paid work, but we’re certainly not resting on our laurels. We know that changes take time, and we are certainly in this for the long haul.
One generation has learnt the behaviour of another, and possibly the one before that as well. It is about breaking this cycle.
What we’ve done is build a strong and sustainable team that can stick with these families for as long as it takes.
That’s why I’m proud not only of our achievements to date, but also that we have been chosen to be among the first local authorities in line for the second phase of funding.
Over the coming months we will start to expand our Think Family programme to take on a further 600 West Sussex families.
Don’t take West Sussex County Council’s word for it. Our top policeman, Chief Superintendent Martin Walker says:
“We are seeing families transformed and communities restored, providing the environment for children to grow into responsible citizens…it is making a real difference”.