Rochdale - cutting the health cost of anti-social behaviour
Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council has commissioned housing charity Shelter to run a family intervention project (FIP) to reduce anti-social behaviour (ASB). Project workers intervene assertively with perpetrators' whole families to address the root causes, including mental health problems, thereby reducing the effect on victims.
Key learnings for other councils
All agencies involved in the FIP emphasise the importance of the multi-agency approach and the Case Intervention Group. People round the table can pool their knowledge of families to develop action plans that ensure relevant agency engagement.
The group has worked with the council's housing department to develop the family intervention tenancy (FIT) agreement. This is a new tool in breaking the downward spiral of unacceptable behaviour, eviction and increasing social exclusion.
Anti-social behaviour strikes at the heart of community life. If left unchecked, it can have adverse effects on people's sense of safety, wellbeing and their health (Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH), 2006).
Eighty-six per cent of victims of anti-social behaviour believe their mental health has been affected. Forty-one per cent of victims questioned said their physical health has been affected (source: survey by Victims Champion).
Anti-social behaviour not only affects its victims, but is also associated with ill health, especially mental health problems, drug and alcohol abuse among the families of perpetrators (Brown, 2003).
The most visible manifestations of anti-social behaviour are often in the environment in which people live. They include:
- dog fouling
- overgrown gardens
- burned-out vehicles
- abandoned needles and drug paraphernalia
- late-night visits by drug dealers
- police raids on homes.
All of the above conspire to make a neighbourhood feel unsafe, even threatening, for residents, even in their own homes.
Rochdale works with perpetrators to address the root causes and thereby reduce the negative impacts of anti-social behaviour on victims.
In 2002, several years before the national ‘Respect' plan was published, Rochdale took a family intervention approach. The council commissioned Shelter to provide a mix of challenge, alongside intensive support to help problem families change anti-social behaviour. The project was subsequently brought under the ‘Respect' umbrella.
Who was involved?
In addition to the council as commissioner and Shelter as the provider of the family intervention service, there is a Case Intervention Group (CIG). This currently sits under the local Safer Communities partnership. This includes members of all relevant agencies, including:
- council departments
- the fire service
- the NHS.
The group is one source of referrals - it tracks their progress and ensures the necessary cross-agency cooperation and action.
The problem and how it was tackled
The traditional response to anti-social behaviour - moving perpetrators on, sometimes making them effectively homeless - simply moved them round the system. This policy did not address the root causes of the behaviour and perpetrators often took their anti-social behaviour with them.
The FIP aims to find the causes of unacceptable behaviour and support people who are vulnerable to eviction from their homes and social exclusion. Project workers, together with partners in the PCT have identified significant low level undiagnosed mental health issues, including:
- bereavement and grief
- hopelessness and inertia preventing people making changes in their lives.
Shelter's manager of the project, Anita Birchall, says that the pattern described above is ‘almost universal' among the most disruptive families. She says:
"We're seeing a social phenomenon that has never been mapped. Many of these families are not registered with a GP. Often their only contact with health and social care services has been through Accident and Emergency."
The FIP targets the most problematic families in an area. The first approach is usually because a family is under threat of eviction. Targeting is very assertive and addresses the whole family. The aim is to ‘grip' the family and bring about intensive multi-agency cooperation and involvement, including landlords, to address the family's problems.
The key workers are highly skilled, able to address the needs of children, young people and adults. They make links with all relevant organisations, including:
- the police
- alcohol and drug services
- health and social care.
An intervention often begins with relocation for perpetrators' families, with the positive objective of making a new start.
Rochdale has a commitment to adopt family intervention tenancies (FITs). Under these, misbehaving families commit themselves to agreed courses of behaviour and to ongoing contact with the relevant agencies.
Outcomes and impact
The initial project was piloted for three years from 2002 and evaluated independently by the University of York. The evaluation found that the project was succeeding in ending anti-social behaviour. It also promoted tenancy sustainment among the majority of households that had completed their time with the project - although there continues to be a large number of dropouts.
Evaluation indicated that the work helps re-engage marginalised children, increasing school attendance. Families of perpetrators said it had raised their self-esteem and prevented them from being evicted. Most felt more in control of their lives and were managing to address their anti-social behaviour.
More recent evaluations of family intervention projects nationally by the National Centre for Social Research (NCSR, 2010) have been positive. This included a significant decline in mental and physical health problems, substance misuse and drinking problems.
One family's experience
A single mother aged 32 with six children.
Referral made by Rochdale Strategic Housing Services (homelessness service)
Issues at referral included:
- current risk of eviction
- low educational attendance and exclusions of children
- anti-social behaviour and damage to property
- offending behaviour and substance abuse by mother and oldest child
- child protection and mental health issues.
Mother suffered from depression and there were concerns around the hygiene of the children when attending school.
The family was re-housed on an introductory tenancy with the understanding that they would be assessed by the FIP.
Following intensive work with many agencies, the mother is managing her depression and does not rely on alcohol. There have been no further incidents of offending behaviour. There have been no further child protection concerns. She has attended JobCentre Plus to explore applying for a part-time job.
The oldest child is enrolled at a school to complete his GCSEs and is engaging well with drug and alcohol workers. The second child was re-integrated into mainstream school and is doing well; he is no longer involved with Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).
Mother has started to implement a routine within the family home, getting up each morning with the children to ensure that they are clean, with the right school uniforms and equipment.
The family successfully completed a 12-month introductory tenancy and now has a secure tenancy.
The model is now being used with different groups of people and their families and is extending well beyond the initial remit of tackling anti-social behaviour, for example to include youth offending and child poverty.
Consideration is also being given by the council, which has recently appointed a ‘victims champion', and its partners to developing a restorative justice model. This would bring together victims and perpetrators of anti-social behaviour, with a view to therapeutic outcomes on all sides.
References and further information
Taking action: tackling anti-social behaviour: Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) (2006)
Brown, A.P., Barclay, A., Simmons, R. and Eley, S. (2003) ‘The role of mediation in tackling neighbour dispute and anti-social behaviour', Edinburgh: Scottish Executive
National Centre for Social Research (NCSR) (2010), ‘ASB family intervention projects: monitoring and evaluation'
Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council
10 February 2015