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The British government’s Troubled Families Programme

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: (Published 16 May 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e3403
  1. Adam Fletcher, lecturer in sociology and social policy1,
  2. Frances Gardner, professor of child and family psychology2,
  3. Martin McKee, professor of European public health1,
  4. Chris Bonell, professor of sociology and social intervention2
  1. 1Faculty of Public Health and Policy, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London WC1H 9SH, UK
  2. 2Centre for Evidence Based Intervention, Department of Social Policy and Intervention, University of Oxford, OX1 2ER, UK
  1. christopher.bonell{at}

A flawed response to riots and youth offending

The British government has recently established the Troubled Families Programme in response to the riots in England in 2011, scaling up a non-negotiable version of the previous government’s Family Intervention Projects. Their aim is to prevent further riots. Key workers will assess the needs of families identified as being troubled and coordinate a year long programme of intensive family support to tackle antisocial behaviour, misuse of drugs and alcohol, and youth crime. However, evidence for the effectiveness of family intervention projects is weak, being made up of small scale evaluations without external comparison groups.1 A systematic review commissioned by the previous government found no studies to support the claim that such interventions improve outcomes for families.2

Even if the programme were effective for those receiving it, targeting 120<thin>000 families, which represent less than 2% of all families in England, would miss most future rioters and young offenders. Public health scientists know that disease prevention approaches aimed only at people identified as at high risk …

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