Family Action is a registered charity providing practical, emotional and financial support to families and adults with mental health problems. They work to tackle some of the most complex and difficult issues facing families today – including financial hardship, domestic abuse, mental health problems, learning disabilities, or substance misuse and alcohol problems - helping 45,000 families a year in over 100 communities across England. The charity also operates a grants programme, dispersing emergency grants for essential items, and an educational grants information service.
Family Action was originally known as the Charity Organisation Society, which was founded in 1869 by a group of Victorian philanthropists including Octavia Hill, Helen Bosanquet, Lord Shaftesbury, William Gladstone, John Ruskin, Cardinal Manning and Beatrice and Sidney Webb. The society was established with the aim of co-ordinating charitable giving but quickly discovered that other types of support were also needed, and volunteers were trained in methods of ‘social casework’, the beginnings of modern day social work.
The COS successfully campaigned for the introduction of the first state pensions in 1908, and in 1938 were instrumental in establishing the first Citizens Advice Bureaux. In 1946 COS changed its name to Family Welfare Association, and continued to be at the forefront of developments in social work . In 2008, following a merger with another charity, Family Service Units (fsu), the organisation rebranded as Family Action.
The charity’s particular emphasis is working with whole families (“family” is self-defined and not restricted to blood relationships or marriage). Their work is grounded in the idea that you cannot deal with the problems of one individual without involving the whole family in the process. Parents’ problems need to be addressed in order that they are better able to care for their children; similarly the difficulties that children face can often be solved by working with the family together. The belief is that, given the right support, families can find their own solutions, however intractable their problems might appear. Family Action’s uniqueness as a service provider lies in its ability to help families (as a whole and as individuals) who have been unable to find help elsewhere; to give a practical response through grants as well as social work support and working with each family member to achieve a brighter future. Family Action operates throughout England and works in partnership with others in the local community, including schools, councils and health services. It has a staff of around 800, more than 500 volunteers, and an income of £23m (2007/08 figures).
The charity runs its own centres, but it also works with some of the most marginalised and socially excluded families through the provision of home-based services. The charity’s work is very extensive and takes in a whole range of complex challenges, which are addressed through a diverse number of projects and working practices. Ever a pioneering organisation, its unique ‘Building Bridges’ and ‘Newpin’ services are continuing to break new ground in being the only services to work with adults who are experiencing mental health difficulties and with their children –supporting the needs of adults in their role as parents and responding to the related but separate needs of the children.
Other main activities include:
• Providing services, including parenting programmes and one to one support, to families in their own homes, as well as through schools, Children’s Centres and the charity’s own service bases.
• Supporting people who have experienced domestic abuse. They work with adults, children, schools and other agencies to deliver a range of services, providing practical and emotional support.
• Delivering a number of Young Carers’ services across England, providing support and information to help children understand their parents’ illness or disability and to express and understand their own feelings about their situation.
• The ‘Valuing Families’ service for parents with learning disabilities and their children. Support is provided on an outreach basis, working with families in their own homes
• WellFamily services in GP practices supporting individuals and families to tackle the social problems which often underpin medical referrals, such as housing, benefits and relationship issues.
• Providing almost £1million annually through the charity’s grants programme to individuals and families in need, helping with essential items such as beds, cookers and children's shoes.
• An Educational Grants Advisory Service (EGAS) offering a range of services providing information on funding for those in post-16 education in England. EGAS specialises in funding from charitable trusts and maintains a database of trusts and charities that assist students.
Family Action also uses its experience as a frontline service provider to campaign for change that will benefit other families in similar situations. Its policy and campaigns unit works to influence policy and practice, for example by responding to government consultations, initiatives and legislation, commissioning and undertaking original research, and campaigning publicly on issues facing vulnerable families.
- Madeleine Rooff, ‘’A Hundred Years of Family Welfare’’ 1972, (London: Michael Joseph)