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The Life Programme

Life aims to support and empower families in chronic crisis to develop their capabilities and build the lives they want to lead. It has been developed with families going through tough times themselves and professionals who want to work with families in new ways.

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Life programmes work with a small number of families in each region, but as with all Participle enterprises Life Programmes aim to be an exemplar of a new kind of public service, what we call relational welfare, in action. Life Programmes are therefore not just about supporting a small number of families and team members changing the way they work together but also aim to catalyse wider culture and system change.
Below we give a brief outline of our approach - for more detailed information on the Life Programme visit where you can also view and download a copy of our Interim Report detailing our findings to date.

The Life programme represents a particular approach to working with the UK’s most troubled families. Often positioned as a ground breaking new programme, in reality it is a common sense new application of resources, within systems that don’t always work that way. It is still early days, but Life is designed to scale nationally, and is has now been run in 4 locations across the UK. Please find some brief information on key aspects of the Life Programme below.

Life was originally developed as a partnership between Participle and Swindon Borough Council and its partner agencies. Life was designed through an intensive initial research process over in which Participle’s team engaged with 12 Swindon families, immersing themselves in their daily lives in order to understand their lived reality. Based on these real experiences, the Life Programme was designed with the families and front-line staff.

Key Premises
The programme operates with the following key premises in mind:

  • Real Time – The average front line social worker spends just 14% of their time with their clients.,1 The Life Team workers aim to spend 80% of their time with their clients.2  This is achieved through technology and a specific programme structure;

  • Right Time – Of the £250,000 spent on the most troubled families,3  of the ones in Swindon, there has been little change in their behaviour. The Life Programme invites families to participate, and allows them to choose which front line staff to work with, so all interventions are aimed at individuals willing to change, resulting in more immediate behaviour change, designed to last longer;

  • Resourceful Time – Resources are focused on building capabilities within the families to lead a better life, free of expensive and re-active, crisis-driven state intervention. The programme is structured in 4 broad stages and aims to build 4 key capabilities with tools and measures to support this process. Life Teams

At the heart of a Life Programme is the Life Team, between 8 to 10 frontline staff, seconded from partner agencies such as housing, children services, probation, youth services police and other front line services. They are recruited for their personal qualities and their professional experience and work as a team around whole families, bringing their specialist expertise but working generically as Life Team Members and building relationships to support change in families. Families take part in the recruitment process and also choose who they want to work with one to one in Life. The Life team are also supported by a data lead.

Whilst the starting point for the selection of Life Programme families takes into account the government criteria, the Life Programme also takes into account long-term, intensive and multiple service involvement (to evidence high cost) and the presence of multiple risk factors (to evidence high risk and need.)

Tools & Measures
A series of simple and practical bespoke tools have been developed within the Life Programme that support and track the work with families. These tools help ensure that difficult conversations happen, plans are made and reflective change happens at all stages of the work. These Life tools, some digital, some paper-based, are gatekeepers between the programme stages, as well as informing the measures, and helping with recording process amongst the families. In addition to bespoke measures, each Life Programme also tracks outcome and cost data at the local authority level.

For more information on the Life Programme visit where you can also view and download a copy of our Interim Report detailing our findings to date.

1 Based on Participle’s ethnographic work with families and frontline staff. 2009.
2 As of Jan 2012, the Swindon Life team members spend 76% focused on the families.
3 Anti-social Behaviour Intensive Family Support Projects, Department for Communities and Local Government (2006)

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