“Ella is a British woman who grew up in a broken home and was abused by her stepdad. Her eldest son got thrown out of school and ended up sitting around the house drinking. By the time her daughter was 16, she was pregnant and had an eating disorder. Ella, though in her mid-30s, had never had a real job. Life was a series of endless crises — temper tantrums, broken washing machines, her son banging his head against the walls.
Every time the family came into contact with the authorities, another caseworker was brought in to provide a sliver of help. An astonishing 73 professionals spread across 20 different agencies and departments got involved with this family. Nobody had ever sat down with them to devise a comprehensive way forward.
In her mind-shifting book, “Radical Help,” the British social entrepreneur Hilary Cottam tracks how one of the social workers in Ella’s case spent his days. Roughly 74 percent of his time was spent on administrative matters — recording data, making referrals to other agencies and meeting with other agencies. Only 14 percent of the social worker’s time was actually spent with the family he was meant to be serving. And that face-to-face time was mostly with a clipboard, checking off boxes on the forms that went back to central administration.
The administrative system around Ella and her family costs roughly 250,000 pounds per year.
Cottam asked the government workers involved in Ella’s case if they could recall a time when they’d transformed a family so it no longer needed government help. They couldn’t think of one.”