After practicing Functional Family Therapy (FFT) for nearly four years, LYFT evaluated and revised the model and is now pioneering a different approach to youth offending by tackling underlying issues within the family. Despite FFT having great outcomes, the team recognised that the needs of the children and families were changing, and they also wanted to include those families who weren’t applicable.
The Origins of FFT
Originating in the United States, FFT is a family-based treatment programme that addresses young people’s offending through their problems at home or school. Due to multiple studies highlighting that many young people offend or re-offend as a response to strenuous family issues, this intervention aims to turn the family relationship into one that protects the young persons and builds a haven in which they can grow from their anti-social behaviour. It is particularly aimed at families who may not readily have access to or are cynical of statutory services and typically takes place within the home or another environment considered to be safe and suitable for the family.
Why did LYFT revise this model?
When the Lewisham Youth Offending Service implemented FFT, there weren’t many services offering this therapy type within the UK. After implementing the model for more than four years, the evaluation revealed great outcomes but that:
- The programme did not extend to families who were clearly in need but did not meet the eligibility criteria.
- Some families needed support but they were not yet ready for therapy.
- Talking about reducing blame regarding domestic abuse was harmful and they wanted to be more mindful of the family experience without re-traumatising the family.
- Some parents presented with mental health issues which impacted their ability to engage in therapy, yet they had no strategy or resources to help better manage this.
In response to the evaluation, Family Therapy works collaboratively with the YOS speech and language team and CAMHS as well as liaison and diversion workers.
LYFT also takes a more comprehensive and reparative approach to dealing with issues such as domestic abuse and actively screens for mental health issues within the parents. They will then refer them to the appropriate services if the parent wishes to access support.
By creating a localised model, cultural considerations have also been implemented as their community is predominantly black and mixed heritage youth. Not only does LYFT now have an ethnically diverse team of therapists but it has publicly declared itself as an anti-racist service that encourages proactive language when discussing structural racism. As a result, conversations between young people and their families concerning culture and race can be facilitated.
LYFT is a referral service which comes from sources such as CAHMS, Youth Offending Services (YOS), Children’s Social Care, and Early Help. LYFT is also currently considering how it can facilitate referrals from the voluntary sector.
For a young person and their family to be eligible for LYFT:
- The young person must be at risk or involved in offending.
- They must be between 11-18 years old.
Previously, the young person had to be living with their parents/carers, but LYFT now offers a therapeutic parenting alternative that includes those who live outside of the home or who may be in custody.
Once a referral has been received, the team will have an ‘Engagement Phase’ with the family. The focus of this session is to create buy-in to the therapy by reducing blame and creating a shared understanding of ‘the problem’.
The therapy plan formulated usually takes the form of weekly sessions that take place in the home of the young person. The plan systemically proceeds the family and young person through its history, problems, and possible solutions by progressing through three different stages:
- Engage and Inspire: This initial phase focuses on engaging and inspiring all family members to work towards positive change. The aim is to reduce negativity and blame by helping everyone see that they share responsibility for their problems and are wholly responsible for each other’s well-being.
- Change and Practice: This phase focuses on behaviour change whereby family members set small goals for change through identifying what needs to be different but what they can build on. They first learn skills necessary for practicing these changes such as problem-solving, positive communication, and conflict resolution.
- Sustain and Maintain: In this phase, family members apply their new skills within other contexts by helping each other out, accessing support for other agencies, and communicating better.
On average, the plans last for 6-8 months but each plan is individualised to accommodate the family. On occasions in which eight months is not a sufficient time frame, there must be a clear plan and specific reasons as to why this is. Once the plan ends, progress checks can occur which are agreed upon by the family but generally, the team only liaises again with the family if they have been re-referred.
If you are interested in finding out more, please contact: LYFT@lewisham.gov.uk
This case study was compiled by Michael Farinu in 2019 and updated by Maysa Clam in 2022