I first met Lilian, Cezar and their three children when they were referred to me for the ‘Troubled Families’ programme. The family were in rent arrears to the point of risking eviction, both parents were out of work, and the children (Elena, aged 15, Ana-Marie, aged 13, and little Alexandru, aged 7) were all persistently absent from school and on a child protection plan. The main problem seemed to be Lilian and Cezar’s substance misuse – they were both addicted to class A drugs.
The first thing I did was to help the parents with their drug problems, so that they could focus on other changes needed. I referred them both to a drug and alcohol support service, and supported them in attending sessions. Lilian and Cezar were grateful for the intervention, and agreed that they would do anything they could to improve things for their family.
Next, it was important to secure housing for the family. Their house was too large for their needs, so the bedroom tax meant their housing benefit was reduced and not enough to cover the full amount of rent, resulting in rent arrears. Together, we contacted the housing association so that they were aware of the issue and I asked a local authority housing officer to advise the family. We completed an application for discretionary housing payment to clear the arrears, and a proportion of this was granted, clearing some of the debt. Lilian and Cezar had other debt too, so I made an appointment for debt advice support and accompanied them on the appointment. Lilian and Cezar began making regular payments.
Throughout these steps, we worked through the actions in the child protection plan, and I attended regular child protection meetings and conferences to support the family. A major factor was the fact that Alexandru and his sisters weren’t attending school regularly. Parental engagement is so important when it comes to attendance, so I explained to Lilian and Cezar about the importance of education and the implications of non-attendance. When they were asked to appear in court about the non-attendance, I accompanied them, and when they showed me the children’s school uniforms, which were old and too small, I applied for new ones from the SHS Welfare Fund. With new uniforms and school put into the proper perspective, attendance started to massively improve.
Things were going brilliantly – but then disaster struck. As there were still rent arrears from before and the monthly rent shortfall continued, the family were evicted. Despite us working with the children’s schools and child services in requesting new housing, they weren’t found any and so had to move in with family to a borough on the other side of the city. Alexandru, Elena and Ana-Marie were miles away from their school, and the parents were cut off from their drug and alcohol services support.
Lilian, Cezar and their children have still made great progress. Before they were evicted, attendance for Alexandru, Elena and Ana-Marie had improved from below 70% to over 90%. This was maintained for three terms, until the eviction had a negative impact on their attendance. The SHS Welfare Fund also paid for Elena to travel back to her old school in order to take some of her GCSEs, as she was moved during her exam period. Both parents were having negative weekly drug screens and engaged brilliantly with the programme offered, with no further evidence of drug use was seen. While they were no longer able to engage with the drug and alcohol service as regularly after their move, Lilian and Cezar continue to provide negative drug screens. They have also continued to maintain all payment plans made, reducing their debt considerably.
Importantly, the child protection plan has been stepped down to a child in need plan, due to the progress and engagement made by the family. Before I worked with them, the family said they felt things always went wrong for them but now they feel that things have turned around and they see the future in a more positive light. It’s been wonderful to see the Lilian and Cezar work together in turning things around – they’ve told me they now realise that when they do this, they are able to achieve their targets and improve things for Elena, Ana-Marie and Alexandru.
*All names have been changed