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Focus on family support

The Dundee Families Project, set up in 1997 by the leading children's charity NCH Scotland, works with families to examine and change behaviour patterns that have caused problems with their neighbours.

These include problems of noise, particularly late at night, and children apparently out of control and aggressive towards neighbours.

Alcohol and drug problems are common to families needing the most intensive support.

Dundee City Council, accepting that eviction does not solve the problems, asked NCH Scotland to develop and manage a project that aimed to address the root of anti-social behaviour. The charity accepted because it saw children were the biggest casualties of the eviction process.

Since 1997 it has worked with about 135 families and has saved the council about pound;117,600 a year in legal bills to evict tenants and to take children into care.

The project's main elements are:l a residential unit created within former council property in the St Mary's area of Dundee to help families who display the most difficult anti-social behaviour. Up to three families at a time can live in the self-contained flats where intensive support is offered.l access to dispersed flats throughout the city as and when required. Families are still supported but in a less intensive manner than in the residential unit.l a preventive outreach service which aims at early intervention to avoid evictions and subsequent homelessness.

Behaviour patterns are addressed by intensive work on an individual, family or group basis. Anger management and parenting skills are taught and classes organised on cookery and domestic budgeting. Alcohol and drugs counselling is also available.

John and Susan Duncan (not their real names) were referred to the project in April 1998. They were homeless and had a history of anti-social behaviour. They had had four council tenancies and 16 private lets in the previous eight years. They were both dependent on alcohol and Mr Duncan had a history of criminal behaviour, including theft, fraud, assault, extortion and intimidation.

Their four children had been taken into care and were displaying behavioural difficulties. The three oldest children rarely attended school and when they did, they were often excluded because of their behaviour. The children were on the child protection register.

The family moved into the residential unit in May 1998. As the project offers a supervised environment, the children returned to their parents'

care two months later.

Mr Duncan was involved in intensive one-to-one and then group sessions on anger management. The couple also took part in alcohol counselling and basic skill sessions on cooking, budgeting and the health and welfare needs of their children. They attended workshops which focused on how to manage a tenancy, how to live in the community and how to live with neighbours.

The children took part in sessions that looked at schooling issues, acceptable behaviour and roles and responsibilities within the family.

Mr and Mrs Duncan had entrenched difficulties. Both their sets of parents had been dependent on alcohol and they were effectively bringing up their children the way they had been brought up themselves.

After staying for a year within the unit, they were ready to move to a dispersed flat, with visits from project workers once a week. They have managed living on their own and there have been no complaints from neighbours.

The housing department agreed to turn the tenancy over to Mr and Mrs Duncan in January 2000 and the social work department has removed the children's names from the child protection register.

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