Case study: How Stoke Family Intervention Project engages with fathers

15 December 2010

Family Intervention Projects (FIPs) were introduced by the Government in 2006 as part of its Respect Action Plan to address the behaviour of the most anti-social families and reduce their impact on the local community. FIPs use an ‘assertive’ and ‘persistent’ style of working to challenge and support such families to address the root causes of their anti-social behaviour (ASB), keeping the Every Child Matters agenda outcomes at heart.

Stoke FIP, which was set up in 2006 is an example of an assertive outreach service that works with families in their own homes. During an intervention, a dedicated key worker focuses on a family. They manage problems, co-ordinate delivery of services and – using a combination of support and sanctions – motivate the individuals to change negative patterns of behaviour.

Offering parenting support to dads as well as mums

Diane Malkin, principal manager at Stoke FIP, stresses that there is no such thing as a ‘hard to reach’ family. “If you have a very motivated team and an inclusive intervention then ‘hard to reach’ isn’t an issue. Others may just approach families by letter but we don’t. You may have fathers that work; we’ll meet when they want to meet. It’s about being creative – it’s not ‘our service works nine to five so you have to come around at 1pm’.

“We try to reach out as an all-inclusive service. We very much look for unisex programmes. Not long ago, all the parenting programmes were aimed at mums so I would walk into a family on my initial visit and mum would say ‘I’ve done a parenting programme’ and I’d say ‘what about dad?’ and he’d say ‘no I haven’t done it’. I’d ask, ‘so when mum is parenting, what are you doing to back each other up?’ For absent fathers, how do you know what parenting is going on in the week? How do you remain consistent? We very much preach that both parents have to go on parenting programmes. Even though our practice is child centred, it is always ‘if we get it right with everything else, we will get it right with the child’.”

Male and female workers – all engaging with dads

There are eight male workers in Stoke’s team of 24. Diane says that the dads feel comfortable with all members of her team, male and female, even where domestic violence has been a problem.

She says: “It’s the fact that [the fathers] are included – it doesn’t matter who involves the dad. We acknowledge their parental role whether they are an absent parent or an inclusive one. We do encourage visits to take place even if the absent father doesn’t want to be involved, so that they are aware of what’s going on.”

Lynn Wilkie, dedicated lead worker at Stoke FIP, explains that practice managers [senior social workers] assess whether a family meets the criteria for FIP intervention. This includes focusing on the father-child relationship.

She adds: “The criteria has these threads attached to it: anti-social behaviour; child poverty, domestic violence, issues of worthlessness. It doesn’t have to be all of these, just one of them. It can include the fact that they’re not functioning at school, and health – everything the average person takes as quite the norm – having a GP, or a dentist, signing up to school…”

Lynn says referrals come from “absolutely everybody” – including members of the family in question. In practice, they mostly arise through the police, or social care and housing departments. Once the FIP is involved, an intensive programme begins. This entails several visits each week to the family and any other significant members of the community, such as grandparents or neighbours who may take a child to school.

Team parenting – working with a mum, stepdad and biological dad

In one of Lynn’s cases, four children – three boys and a girl – who lived with their mother and stepfather in council accommodation were experiencing escalating problems, such as truancy and ASB.

She says: “This is a family that did have values, but the parenting needed to be brought out. Sadly the relationship completely broke down with the divorce and the relationship with the children broke down so the stepfather took the main figurehead father role.”

As the mother and father didn’t speak to one another, contact with the children disappeared, recalls Lynn. She adds that while the stepdad tried to be a good father, he didn’t encourage the children to see their biological dad, which led to the family becoming increasingly disjointed.

A referral from the housing department revealed that anti-social behaviour was increasing among the boys, and the daughter, who saw her father on an ad-hoc basis, was suffering due to the pressure of being in a ‘piggy in the middle’ role.

“The stepfather was doing his exceptional best, but in a way he was trying too hard, “ says Lynn. “It was, ‘Why should we listen to you? You’re not our real dad.’ When the FIP went in, this family made it clear that they wanted to change. I highlighted all the professionals available to the family in that assessment and they agreed to sign up and for all the professionals to talk and share relevant, private information.”

Once Lynn had gained the family’s trust, she suggested bringing in the biological father, a move that was welcomed once the mother realised the impact of the separation.

“They were a family who would listen because in such an intensive intervention, you really do build up the trust by not changing the support worker every few months. They never realised why the daughter was in tears and had such a bout of absences. The younger ones were craving seeing dad – they knew he had got remarried and had a new family. I called at the biological dad’s and was extremely welcomed into their home. I explained about the project; he was relieved because he had been worrying for years about this family.

“We had a meeting with everyone there; it went great though the mum and dad don’t speak, and I was quite invisible. The difference [to the children’s behaviour and performance] when I did get the biological father involved was massive. The mother and biological dad sing from the same hymn sheet now, so there is consistency.”

Managing interventions across agencies

The FIP holds regular multi agency panel and assessment meetings (MAPAMs) to which all parties are invited to discuss all aspects of an intervention, as well as monthly supervision meetings and case reviews. If a father is in prison, a lead worker will visit him so that he is ready for the changes in his family when he is released – this helps to avoid the family breaking up when reunited and gives the father motivation to prepare. Case consultations are recorded and the FIP has a shared database so that the team is up to date with action plans and any contact that has taken place.  The DCSF also reviews FIPs to ensure they are meeting objectives.

Diane says: “We have quite a big management team so, operationally, lead workers are in touch with their managers so we can monitor what work’s going on. Because of the quality we work to, it’s very important that we keep that monitoring so people don’t have to wait eight weeks for a case review but they can have one as and when one is needed.

“What makes us father-inclusive is our training, our lead workers, teamwork, best practice, case reviews of when it has worked well – when we have included fathers and team planning away days – the lead workers write their own agenda so we know what we need to do. Simply being a FIP makes us father-inclusive – we have that remit.”

Find out more about father-inclusive parenting support in our guide Fathers and Parenting Interventions: What Works?, price £10.

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