Seeing the person, not the problem
Politics and policies can change lives. However, policy is just an idea until people do something to enact it. For real life change to occur for people in poverty, we need to focus on the relationships they have with the people delivering government support.
You’d be excused for thinking it’s impossible for government to incorporate relationship into their work. However, the British government seem to have found a solution in the Troubled Families Programme. That is, a family intervention programme where a “key worker” is assigned to a family meeting multiple criteria, including; causing high cost to the tax payer, children regularly out of school, involvement in youth crime, and an adult on out of work benefits.
These key workers partner with a family at breaking point to help begin the process of rebuilding. This can look very different from day-to-day; including helping solve practical issues like clearing an attic so a leaky roof can be fixed, spending time listening to the family and figuring out the underlying issues like booking an appointment to be fitted for false teeth because a self-conscious mother doesn’t want to leave the house. They’ll also work as an intermediary with the different agencies to ensure that families are getting the help they need. The Troubled Families Programme brings the help directly to the struggling families in the form of an individual who ensures “that they are treated as a human being, that they are listened to, and that their individual circumstances are taken into account.”
While it is difficult to measure quantitative success in this kind of programme there have been particular reductions in crime, educational risks, and child protection issues with these families since its introduction.
We do have our own versions of family intervention strategy in New Zealand, albeit on a much smaller scale. For example; Wh?nau Ora have a group of Navigators who work closely with mostly M?ori wh?nau to “identify aspirations and provide wrap around support and skills building.” The New Zealand Productivity Commission have already recommended this programme as an approach to improving our social services.
New Zealand’s Government are also funding community organisations that have used this model for years to great effect. As Louise Casey, head of the UK’s Troubled Families Programme has said; “What’s missing is love.” While some families just need more money or a warm house, for others a personal touch makes all the difference.
While our government does provide some relationship-based work, generally in the form of social workers, this is limited and needs to be expanded. There is little point in spending money on different social agencies if they aren’t providing lasting impact. The British Troubled Families Programme proves that through family intervention strategies it is possible for government and community social services to use relationship to create this lasting impact. If New Zealand’s government is truly interested in helping these families, perhaps it is time to consider how they might introduce a similar holistic approach to social services here.