Exclusive: Channel 4 News has gained special access to social programmes working at the sharp end with some of Britain’s most challenging families.
During the recent election, all parties committed themselves to clamping down on anti-social disorder.
As a phrase it was barely known until the 90s – now the problem of how to tackle petty crime and hooliganism, often from teenagers, has become a major political issue.
All parties agree that intervention into the homes of Britain’s most chaotic families is necessary.
Since Labour introduced ASBOs in 1998, over 15,000 have been issued but there are alternative schemes.
We’ve commissioned a special documentary film to look at other ways of tackling the root causes of anti-social behaviour.
So what do we do when a family is causing havoc in their community.
Whose responsibility is it to intervene and how much are we prepared to spend in this new era of spending cuts?
Channel 4 News has followed the lives of three different families and support groups all working to improve the life of the children.
In Melton Mowbray Laura is a single mother of nine children and is struggling to bring up her family on benefits.
After splitting up with her third partner Laura was hit with depression and lost control of the household.
Two of her children, Shane (16) and Ben (14) tell of days spent throwing stones at houses and smashing windows. The younger Ben admits he was on drugs at the time, but adds he “was a douche bag”.
Her family were the recipients of frequent complaints as a result of her children’s behaviour and so the Family Intervention Project (FIP) stepped in.
The government introduced FIPs in 2006 to deal with families perceived as “lost causes”.
Where previously there could be up to 20 services involved with a family, a “FIP” key worker is put in place to co-ordinate intervention and correct the family’s behaviour through parenting classes and funding leisure activities for the kids.
Steve, a FIP senior project coordinator describes their aims: “It’s about getting the balance right. I mean we are not going in there to parent for her. Ultimately she has to take responsibility for herself and her family.”
He said that without FIP Laura’s family would have most ‘”certainly” been evicted.
If an eviction had occurred that could have cost the government up to a quarter of a million pounds, whereas a FIP intervention would cost around £60,000.
The family feel they have benefited from the FIP programme with mother Laura saying: “I think I’m a better mum to my kids that what I was back then.”
Over 3,000 families have now been supported by FIP’s. Although the average shows a reduction in anti-social behaviour, with £125 million spent since 2006, FIP projects do come at a price.
The average length of intervention is one year, after which the team gradually withdraw causing concerns for Laura about what happens afterwards: “I’m a bit worried once they stop working with the family that Shane and Ben are gonna go back to being rebels and causing havoc.”
An alternative approach to tackling anti-social behaviour is the Acceptable Behaviour Contract (ABC), in which children can be continued to be monitored and supported.
PC Caswell, Youth Diversionary Officer of Humberside Police describes the role of the ABC:
“An acceptable behaviour contract is a statutory agreement between a police officer or a council operative and a young person or an adult.
“Where we look at there behaviour and point out what is right and what is wrong and we agree between ourselves that they need to change the way that they behave and look at mannerisms in a better way, where they respect members of the public more.”
Over 43,000 people in England and Wales have given ABCs since they started in 2003. But PC Caswell doesn’t believe they’re an answer in themselves:
“I don’t think an Anti-Social Behaviour Contract will stop a young person going onto an Anti Social Behaviour Order (ASBO) or going to prison.
“But I think that the whole holistic approach that we have got through support stops the young person going on and committing further offences and going to prison.
It is not only the state that intervenes in tackling anti-social behaviour.
Chris and Paul work for a charity, Rathbone, who send youth workers out on the street to directly target the kids committing the offences.
Channel 4 News travelled with them as they met Joanne, a single mother of eight after encountering two boys on the street.
Having never worked, benefits keep her family afloat. However, she struggles to keep on top of day-to-day life and education has become a key issue.
Neither of the boys are in full-time education. In Harpurhey, the percentage of children leaving school with no qualifications is ten times the national average.
Joanne’s eldest boys have had repeated warnings about their behaviour from the police, and her 12-year old son already has an ABC.
One of her other children James, 14, says he would like to be a mechanic and says it would be easy for him to stay out of trouble, but that he just wants to “play with my mates”.
Though she has support from several agencies, Joanne is bewildered by the stream of demands from the local authority and police.
“I want them in school so I don’t get in trouble and they get an education out of it and stuff like that.
“But if we stay around here they will be on drugs, they will have ASBOs they will be in prison when they are 18.”
“I let it build up and build up and then I just sit there and cry. There is nothing else I can do. There are so many people on my back and I can’t shake them all off. So I don’t know, I don’t know.”
When son James is asked where he sees himself in five years time he answers: “A mechanic, footballer, or prison or something.”