‘Troubled Families’ Programme in England: ‘wicked problems’ and policy based evidence

Carol Hayden, Craig Jenkins

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This article outlines and critiques a key area of contemporary social policy in England: the Troubled Families Programme, launched in 2011. This is a national programme which aims to ‘turn around’ the lives of the 120,000 most troubled families in England by 2015. Troubled families are characterised as those who ‘have’ problems and ‘cause’ problems to those around them. Troubled Families can be viewed as a ‘wicked problem’ in the sense that the issues surrounding these families tend to be reconceptualised regularly and re-solved differently, depending on changes in government. The article critically reviews the evidence base for the overall approach of the programme and the way the scale and nature of the issue is understood. It debates whether this is a case of evidence-based policy or policy-based evidence. Early indications are that behavioural change is likely to be achieved in some families (increased school attendance, reductions in anti-social behaviour and crime), but that addressing worklessness (a key focus of the programme) presents the biggest challenge. An even bigger challenge is helping families to find work that will move them out of poverty. The article draws on ongoing research in two contrasting local authorities implementing the programme.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)631-649
Number of pages19
JournalPolicy Studies
Issue number6
Early online date11 Dec 2014
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2014


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