Welcome to another week.

The government has published guidance outlining the latest details of a programme which aims to find parents jobs under the pretext that it is tackling child abuse in the home. The project also hails the return of the government’s now infamous Troubled Families Programme. The initiative was heavily criticised during its operation for failing to help vulnerable families and engaging in fraudulent activity which included feeding stale information into under-developed Big Data software, massaging figures to cover up its failures and lying about the project’s success.

The scheme is part of the government’s Reducing Parental Conflict programme. The web page says the project has been allocated a total of £39 million in order to run.

The Department for Work and Pensions says the programme aims to improve outcomes for children living in homes experiencing parental conflict:

“Where a child lives with both parents in the same household, more than 1 in 10 (11%) of children have at least one parent who reports relationship distress.

Children living in workless families are 3 times more likely to experience parental conflict that in families where both parents are in work.

Children in workless families are almost twice as likely to live with at least one parent reporting symptoms of anxiety and depression. They are also nearly twice as likely to fail to reach expected levels at all stages of their education.”

An earlier press release, offers details about a £2.7 million fund to tackle parental conflict which was announced by the Minister for Family Support, Housing and Child Maintenance, Justin Tomlinson. The press release explains that the ultimate goal of the fund is to place parents in employment while suggesting that children who have been subjected to emotional and physical abuse at home are the driving force behind this initiative.

The Reducing Parental Conflict programme is underpinned by just one document, which appears to suggest that conflict in the home – which can come about due to do mental health problems, substance abuse and lack of emotional support for children – is all down to unemployment. The policy paper’s title, which is “Improving Lives: Helping Workless Families,” sits at odds with the scheme’s working title which focuses on parental conflict in the home and does not give any indication that the programme intends to focus on employment issues. However this becomes clear within the policy paper itself. The paper’s introduction says:

“This Government is committed to creating a country that works for everyone, in which everyone can go as far as their talents and hard work will take them. However we know that, despite record employment, for some families, worklessness, not employment, is the norm. Our analysis has revealed how this worklessness and the complex problems associated with it hold people back and prevent them from reaching their potential.”

The government is using the paper to sanction its approach towards vulnerable families, which involves building on AI software to collect and analyse data sourced by local authorities about families in their area council officials deem to be vulnerable. One of the six aims of the project is to fund innovations that work to “reduce parental conflict, digitally” and “for families where the children face disadvantages.” The proposal could raise alarm bells amongst families and social work professionals who feel that the government is already too intrusive and has too much power to remove children from their homes.

We already know from the extensive research published that conflict in the home is not at its root about unemployment. Furthermore, the issue of childcare remains central to child welfare policies and pushing parents into employment today often means any money earned is spent in its entirety on child care costs. The government’s Tax-Free Childcare system, which offers up to £2,000 to help with childcare costs, extended entitlement to free childcare of up to 30 hours as well as enhanced childcare support through Universal Credit, is unlikely to ease this burden significantly for a lot of families.

In what seems like a glaring omission, the Reducing Parental Conflict programme has pledged to tackle substance abuse, but has failed to consider incorporating the highly succesful and family-friendly Drug and Alcohol Court which has had to raise money from private investors to stay operational in the UK.

The news that the Troubled Families Programme has been allowed to relaunch after a frontline social worker on the programme revealed the extent of its fraudulent activity and the Public Accounts Committee’s verdict that the programme was “Ineffective, unethical and evasive,” is going to cause a great deal of concern among child welfare professionals and families. The Troubled Families Programme also made use of AI software to analyse families’ data, and while digital support can be useful when the software is robust and effective, it’s clear that child protection big data software still has a long way to go and may currently just be automating inequality.

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