Every family needs an Aunty Mary

Last week I heard an excellent presentation from the Chief Executive of Swindon Council where he outlined the innovative ways in which the council and its partners were dealing with the problems of ‘difficult families’. This is not the first such presentation that I have heard.  Last summer I heard a similar one about excellent work being done by Westminster City Council. Westminster have estimated that one of these 4/5 member families can cost the public sector up to £300,000 each year. That’s nothing. We had a much bigger feral family in Liverpool in the mid 00’s that were costing the public sector more than £3,000,000!

These families are what the popular press would call, “Families from Hell”. You would not want to live near them because of the havoc they wreak on their own lives and the lives of anyone nearby. One of these families can damage the reputation and ways of life of an entire estate. Thousands of people held in subjugation to the wilful acts of a family.

They cost a lot of money because they cost a lot of time. This fact was recognised by the Government when, in last year’s Comprehensive Spending Review’, they announced a new process of community budgeting designed to bring all the agencies together in a very different way when they deal with ‘Families with Complex Needs’. The fact is that they way we do things now is appalling. Let’s just look at the Baby P case. 14 lots of professionals all got their outputs from working with that family and all paid their mortgages. They all did what appeared to be right in the terms of their organisation and what that organisation expected of them but whose outcome was it that Baby Peter should die?

What has happened to the CSR activity? Apparently lost without trace. The last I heard of it DCLG officials were messing the simple proposition up with complex reporting and KPI regimes. Now I understand that DCLG just cannot bring together the funding streams required from the different Ministries because special interests seek to preserve budgets rather than blend outputs and outcomes. At least this time, in private anyway, Ministers are conceding that this is a problem for them and not the fault of councils.

The Swindon proposal, the Westminster action is basically the same as what I call the ‘Aunty Mary approach. In the not too distant past before the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s when councils obliterated entire neighbourhoods there were strong communities that held together. Those communities were composed of strong extended families and every family had an ‘Aunty Mary’. Aunty Mary was the source of all knowledge. The entire family deferred to her knowledge and decisions. She would decide when a child needed a doctor or a telling off. She would advise mums on how to bring up their kids based on the experience of bringing up her own.

Isn’t that the way we should do it now? Those strong families no longer exist in many areas. Sons and daughters are brought up exclusively by (usually) mothers with a strong turnover of temporary fathers and ‘uncles’. This is not an attack on single parent families. Many kids are brought up by  single mums and dads turn out a credit to their parents, schools and communities. But for the feral family unless we do things fundamentally differently there appears to be no hope. Inter generational worklessness, lack of qualifications, lack of esteem have created 1 or 2% of the population who now exist outside the norms that the other 98% set for us.

They are not ashamed of appearing in court where they accept a jail sentence as part of their way of life. They won’t get qualifications because no-one in their family ever has and if they did it wouldn‘t get them the job that they think they deserve anyway.

It might just be 1 or 2 % of the population but at £300,000 per year per family they are mopping up a lot of cash that could be better used elsewhere.

So my solution is to give every one of these families an ‘Aunty Mary’. These saints would, need to be well paid but would save us all a fortune. They would be a constant in the life of those families. They would be the source of all knowledge and would help families negotiate a baffling mix of bureaucracy of expedient professionals who look to the specific and not the holistic needs of the family.

That’s what the complex needs initiative is supposed to be about. Who can tell me why it has sunk without trace?


About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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1 Response to Every family needs an Aunty Mary

  1. comingeast says:

    Love the concept of an Aunt Mary! We here in the U.S. have similar problems with families that use all our resources and keep repeating their dysfunctional lifestyle generation after generation. And, yes, children who are supposed to be protected, die because there are not enough social workers to monitor their situations closely enough.

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