Louise Casey, who calls herself Director General, Troubled Families, published a report this week; ‘Listening to troubled families’. This report generated headlines and television news coverage across the UK. There has been some criticism. Zoe Williams provides a good summary here.
So why am I bothering to write anything? I suppose because I feel incensed. Because I’m a researcher and I hate to see fake ‘research’. Especially published fake ‘research’. Especially in a government publication. And most importantly, because this sort of toxic bile sticks. I can imagine how it’s been reported in the Daily Mail and Telegraph. Middle class people across the country turning their noses up at these ‘feral families’ over their breakfast tea and toast. It’s wrong.
So, where shall I start? Well, Casey’s certainly overstretched herself with the report. It’s poorly written, repetitive and drips with judgemental statements. Even the foreword (written by herself) is rambling, repetitive nonsense. I keep coming back to ‘why did she do it’? She ain’t no researcher. There’s a ton of up to the minute, well researched studies the government could have drawn on. I can only think she was given the ‘problem families’ gig (why?) and took it upon herself (in a self important way) to go and ‘interview’ some families, select extracts from the interviews (bypassing the essential stage of analysis) and vomit text around them. Text that reeks of her own fears,anxieties, assumptions and prejudice. The random referencing of academic study underlines a woeful lack of engagement in this area.
A bug bear of mine when providing student feedback is meaningless, throwaway statements. Louise has got a real handle on these;
In some cases there are clearly negative consequences for children growing up in these structurally unstable families, especially where the instability is accompanied by violence. [You don’t say..]
She also shines at lobbing in unsubstantiated, judgemental statements;
Some of the families reported being able to cope with the children when they were younger but as they got older found it more difficult, as they often started to display more challenging behaviour – often borne of their early experiences.
Many of the people interviewed were just not very good at relationships – unsurprising perhaps in light of their own upbringing.
There is a leaning towards a Mills and Boon type style of writing. Not your usual government report lingo;
For example, as soon as the relationship between the parents breaks down, the father disappears from the family never to be heard of again.
But mostly it’s meaningless nonsense, again openly framed by Casey’s view of ‘good’ (middle class) parenting;
In some cases the mother’s idea of protecting their children seemed extremely far away from what most would consider acceptable. “Yeah so Owen left and then I think Clare must have been probably the age of going up to secondary school herself and she was fine in her first year. She got to 12 and I don’t know what happened. She changed completely. Horrible child…she basically took over the house…” Jill
In the next extract, Louise seems to equate living in the same area for a long time as isolating. But I think she probably means living in the kind of area these families live in means they don’t mix with ‘normal’ people and this leads to some sort of interbreeding and more problems.
The impression of families’ isolation from more ‘normal’ or positive friends or networks came across strongly. While many families moved around from one place to another fleeing violence, others had never left the area they had grown up in. Their partners came from the same street or moved between women in the area. They tended to stick within a network of other dysfunctional peers.
She gets herself in a bit of a mess in the next section. When it comes to parents blaming services, she suddenly tries to inject some objectivity into the report and spouts gibberish;
Many of the families complained about professionals or agencies involved with them, and in particular, social services. However it would not be fair to always lay the blame there when looked at dispassionately [???]. Undoubtedly, some families have reason to feel let down. But there were often unwarranted feelings that their problems were not of their making, and that they had no control over the problem or its solution; that it was they that had highlighted problems, with services simply failing to intervene and do what they were entitled to expect of them.
She manages to slip in that some families want larger council houses and makes it clear that while the mothers raise challenges they face, such as overcrowding, unsupportive schooling and a lack of effective support, the problem is firmly located within the family. To the extent that she refuses to acknowledge that some of the kids had learning difficulties. This is kind of hilarious in a way. But of course it’s not.
In certain cases there were undoubtedly problems with children that any parent would find difficult to deal with. But for many it was clear that the reasons for that behaviour had come from the household itself – the poor parenting skills, the constant changes in the home, family and partners, and the ongoing verbal and physical violence (among many other factors no doubt).
Yep, she actually added that last bit in brackets..
The conclusion is firmly within Mills and Boon territory with “starkest messages” about these dysfunctional families “who are not beyond help and hope”. I am not going to even repeat any of her nonsense conclusions because they ain’t worth the paper they are written on.
I’m left with a few questions really;
- How can this piece of billy bullshit (or bileshit) be presented as a government report?
- Why is Louise Casey Director General of Troubled Families and what does this mean?
- Are there any other Director Generals and if so, who are they?
The spreading of such toxic bile is deeply alarming, but so is what it demonstrates about this bunch of chocolate teapots running this country.