Problem families do not want to annoy their neighbours but they have no idea how to behave normally, according to a senior council official leading a crack-down on anti-social behaviour in Birmingham.
Tony Howell, who is responsible for co-ordinating the city council's attempt to deliver the Government's Respect agenda, said people who constantly misbehaved needed to be helped to mend their ways rather than being prosecuted.
Mr Howell, the council's strategic director of children, young people and families, said: "The most difficult families don't like being the most difficult families. They just don't know what to do about it. They need to have someone who is not perceived as having a different agenda but someone who is there to help them sort out the chaos that their lives have descended into."
Mr Howell told a council scrutiny committee that the voluntary sector could play a bigger role in helping to address anti-social behaviour.
He added: "We have got to have people who are experts in this level of intervention. Some of the most intractable difficulties are given to the least qualified public sector staff to sort out."
The Respect agenda had been wrongly interpreted as "waving a big stick" at problem families, he said.
The council would have failed if it took "extreme measures", such as eviction, rather than intervening at an earlier stage to encourage people to behave more appropriately.
A working party chaired by Mr Howell will attempt to put a figure on the number of problem families in Birmingham and will also try to define anti-social behaviour. "We must make a very clear statement about what kind of behaviour is acceptable and what is not acceptable."
But there was also a warning that tough action against offenders could backfire. Ian Coghill, council director of community safety, told the committee: "If you only see anti-social behaviour as something you whack with a big stick, you aren't going to succeed. You have to act strongly when things have got out of hand, but then you have failed."