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Archive for the ‘Deep Value’ Category

Building emotional resilience in young people across the capital

Thursday, April 6th, 2017

Earlier this year Community Links were hugely excited to announce being awarded, by the Department of Health (DH), the opportunity to lead the highly innovative peer mentoring project, More than Mentors, which started its delivery in schools within the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham. Since this announcement we have also started work in the London Boroughs of Hackney and Haringey, and are reaching out to other schools and community youth groups to offer this crucial work in differing and diverse settings across the Capital.

Addressing the current crisis in young people’s mental health and focusing on building resilience 

Over recent years it has become increasingly evident that young people’s mental health needs to be seen as a priority for both health and educational services. Escalating demand against insufficient capacity within current services has created a growing crisis in mental health. As highlighted in our report: ‘Thriving Minds: Acting early on mental health’, the current crisis in mental health is as much a social crisis, as a medical or funding crisis. Mental health underpins so many aspects of our lives that, in order to tackle the causes of poor mental health, we need a far-ranging response beyond simply reforming mental health services. We need effective, evidence-based initiatives in the community that can deliver more preventative support and are focused on building resilience.

More than Mentors is a new and creative model of peer mentoring, which has been co-designed and co-delivered as a pilot study in east London. Through the Department of Health’s “health and social care volunteer fund” Community Links has been invited to take the lead in rolling this programme out in 5 boroughs across the capital – with Jo Richardson Community School and Eastbury Community School, both in London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, being the first schools where we have successfully delivered this intervention.

Building on this success, we are now not only continuing to work within these 2 schools, but have also brought on board 4 more secondary schools in Barking and Dagenham with whom we shall be working over the next academic year. With the support of the Barking and Dagenham CCG (Clinical Commissioning Group) and the Education department within the local authority we are aspiring to offer this programme in every secondary school within the borough by the time the project has been completed in March 2019.

But we have also begun working in the London boroughs of Hackney and Haringey, and will be offering this More than Mentors approach within both boroughs in schools and youth groups, build the evidence base for its impact and demonstrating the wider need.

More than Mentors draws on the best evidence from across the field, exploring peer mentoring as a way of preventing significant mental health conditions in young people. Peer mentoring – where older adolescents support their younger peers – has been shown to prevent the development of mental health problems in research studies. However, frequently in practice, little attention is given to the evidence around recruitment, training and support of these volunteer mentors. Community Links, with a wider partnership team (including East London Foundation Trust and the Anna Freud Centre) are working with adolescent volunteer through to commissioners, to further co-develop, test, evaluate and subsequently disseminate an approach which sustainably delivers an effective voluntary peer mentoring workforce across London.

Rolling out More than Mentors across the capital

The More than Mentors delivery team, based at Community Links, are now busy training peer mentors, supporting peer mentoring and will soon be Training the Trainers as More than Mentors youth practitioners. The programme strives to prevent future mental health conditions in young people, and to ensure those who are struggling are able to access the support available across schools and community settings within the capital. By supporting students earlier, we are addressing early markers for mental health conditions such as depression, stress and anxieties, reducing associated symptoms and supporting students in feeling able to overcome everyday pressures. Furthermore, by connecting with the local transformation agenda for Children and Young People’s mental health services, we will also look to support the development of an approach that is focused on building resilience in young people.

The More than Mentors programme

This programme trains young people aged 14-18 years old in schools and community settings such as youth clubs, to become peer mentors through a 2-day/5 session accredited (NOCN) programme of learning. Mentors are then able to offer a 10-week programme of support for mentees (aged 11-16 years old) – a programme that offers both one-to-one support and group-based, positive activities. The mentors and mentees are supported throughout the programme by experienced More than Mentors Youth Practitioners and a mental health specialist. At all stages the mentors are supervised and supported in their development as a mentor, ensuring that they can offer guidance and support to their mentees.

More than Mentors is an ambitious programme, which aims to support many young people across the capital by taking a new and innovative approach. Our first 2 schools have allowed us to work with 40 young people so far. But now, we are hoping to involve up to 400 young people over this coming academic year – having a real impact on how we support young people and build their resilience. We are keen to keep you informed of how the work is progressing. We will be sharing regular blog posts so that young people and professionals can read about the project, and hear what young people and wider stakeholders feel about the work and its impact within their schools and communities. These are exciting times for Community Links, and we are looking forward to sharing this important work with you.

If you are interested in learning more about More than Mentors, then please get in touch;

Jason Turner – Project manager

jason.turner@community-links.org

Nick Barnes – Strategic lead advisor for More than Mentors

nick.barnes@community-links.org

Prisons and the supersize solutions

Friday, March 24th, 2017

“We try to remove whatever it was that caused the crime”

News this week of plans to build four new “supersized” prisons in England and Wales contrasts miserably with progress in the Netherlands where nineteen prisons have closed in recent years, five in the last year alone.

Jan Roelof van der Spoel, deputy governor of Norgerhaven, a high-security prison in the north-east of the Netherlands offers this explanation for the difference.

“In the Dutch service we look at the individual …If somebody has a drug problem we treat their addiction, if they are aggressive we provide anger management, if they have got money problems we give them debt counselling. We try to remove whatever it was that caused the crime. The inmate himself or herself must be willing to change but our method has been very effective. Over the last 10 years, our work has improved more and more.”

Justice Secretary, Liz Truss, justified her expansion plans with this analysis: “We cannot hope to reduce reoffending until we build prisons that are places of reform where hard work and self-improvement flourish”. Is she really saying that the only way to close prisons is to first build more?

It is certainly never too late to “try to remove whatever it was that caused the crime” but the prevention of first time offending is even better than preventing reoffending. It can be done and it should be: Speaking about creating an  “early action culture” in the police service at our Insight event last year  Andy Rhodes of the Lancashire Constabulary told us that “to prevent crime”, not to arrest more, is the first “Peelian principle”, it should be a police officer’s  primary goal.

Andy embarked on a mission to shift the emphasis after reading our Triple Dividend  report in 2011. Now he says early action is part of our language, it’s referenced on the crime plan, it’s in our recruitment, promotion and Learning and Development with a masters in Early Action at UCLAN and tons of frontline toolkits.”

At the start of his quest Andy was the deputy chief constable and there were a lot of sceptics. Now, not everyone gets it but we are getting there” and Andy is the new Chief Constable , promoted just last week to the top job in the Lancashire Constabulary.

And if Andy is right and we can reduce crime, what might become of our prisons? Again the Netherlands are setting us a shining example: Part of Amsterdam’s Bijlmerbajes prison has become a cultural hub called Lola Lik and part of it is now the Wenckebachweg refugee centre. Here activities for up to 1,000 refugees are aimed at “accelerated integration” – the so called “Amsterdam approach”. The Refugee Company is launching a coffee shop on the site, there’ll be a solar-powered cinema, and The Startup Kitchen, will host food start-ups from around the world.

It’s a remarkable transformation and vivid testimony to the idea that supersizing prevention is altogether better for us all than supersizing prisons.

Fake relationships and Revolution 3.2

Monday, February 13th, 2017

The launch of the Jo Cox Loneliness Commission a couple of weeks ago attracted more media attention than might be expected for such an event. No doubt this was largely due to the appalling circumstances of its genesis: Ms Cox was deeply concerned about the issue and was planning the commission at the time of her murder. MPs Rachel Reeves and Seema Kennedy are now carrying forward the work that she began.

However I don’t think the tragic association accounts for all the attention: As I have written previously, at least one in five Brits are lonely often or all of the time. Loneliness is a twenty first century  plague and although almost all the press coverage over the last two weeks has focused on  older people this is, as I noted a couple of weeks ago, a misleading emphasis.  Study after study has shown that no age or social group is immune.

 

We have been thinking about the early action contribution to this conversation. Our Early Action in Later Life report stirred passions in 2014 with the assertion that “befriending schemes are to social isolation what food banks are to poverty”.

We meant no disrespect to befriending schemes or to Food Banks, both are an essential response to a crisis, but neither, on their own, offer a long term solution. Alongside the remedial work we need a deeper, longer term approach to redressing the causes of loneliness.  Just as we must ask “why are so many people hungry?” and tackle those issues, so too must we ask “why are so many people lonely?” and confront the causes

This takes us into the wider issue of social isolation which we need to address not only to beat loneliness but also to boost educational performance, enhance economic opportunity and social mobility, reduce health inequalities, improve social cohesion and indeed do almost everything that really matters.

And, far from making progress on social isolation, we are not even moving in the right direction. Instead we are, as Alvin Toffler wrote, “experiencing the dizzying disorientation brought on by the premature arrival of the future”.  Our every transaction is now automated from paying the rent to fixing a doctor’s appointment. Social media has redefined our understanding of friendship. We have limitless virtual networks but fewer real friends. Those that we do have are likely to be scattered and distant. We network but we don’t relate. And we have devalued our understanding of the concept of “relationships” to the point where I travel to Birmingham and Virgin Trains assure me that they “value our relationship”.

Fake relationships are as ubiquitous in 2017, and just as insidious, as fake news.

Across the sweep of history this sequence is not unfamiliar. First the agrarian, then the industrial revolutions disrupted social patterns and called for new ways of behaving individually and collectively. Social change followed but it took a while. Now we are again in the catch up phase. Part 3.2 as it were, of the technological revolution that has so transformed our lives in recent years.

We have to tackle the scourge of social isolation by fixing the cause. To do that we must begin with a two part question:

First, what is a real relationship?  I think it is one that nourishes with depth and meaning.  It is between people, possibly facilitated by a machine or an organisation but not with a machine or an organisation. And it is about more than kindness or reciprocity, empathy or solidarity although it is all these things. It may be closest to what in Africa is known as Ubuntu – “my humanity is inextricably bound up in yours. We belong in a bundle of life” Desmond Tutu.

And then, what is a real 21st century relationship? We can’t rewind the clock even if we wanted to. Our generation’s big challenge is to fathom out how we use and benefit from the recent advances in ways which don’t devalue our essential humanity but which value, sustain and enrich it.

Voluntary organisations like ours don’t have all the pressing mandatory duties of a statutory authority. We have the freedom, and with the freedom a responsibility, to try to understand not just how we manage or ameliorate a problem but how we build a better society. I’m not sure what Revolution 3.2 should look like but I do think  we should try to free the space to think about it not least because, as Dr Toffler also said, You’ve got to think about big things while you’re doing small things, so that all the small things go in the right direction.”

Living our values in 2017

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

Life begins at 40, or at least our next adventure does.

Michael and Arvinda, our chair and Chief Executive announce today that Community Links is joining with the family of Catch22. This will give us the opportunity to develop our innovative work within the enhanced security of a bigger group and to work on a bigger canvas but without compromise to purpose or principle. We will continue as a separate organisation within the group, driven by our own values, retaining our brand identity and charity number and responsibility for our own work programme, staff and finances.

Catch22 make us look young! Its antecedents reach back to 1788. The modern organisation now runs a wide range of social welfare projects with local authorities and other commissioners across the UK. It is big, good and well-respected.

On stepping down as CEO of Save the Children Fund last year Justyn Forsyth said “If charities are not prepared to change, we will, in turn, be less able to change the world.” We at Community Links agree. “To generate change” is the first line in our statement of purpose and this continuous commitment to learning and evolution must apply as much to ourselves as it does to the world around us.

So our new partnership is an important change and a bold step but it is also a natural one for Community Links. Collaboration has always been at the heart of our model – collaborating in our own community and collaborating with business and with government, even when both have been unfashionable in the third sector.

We are doing it now because radical change and committed collaboration is needed more than ever: I noted in my Christmas blog that we entered 2016 with business leaders predicting economic recovery but with austerity and reckless disregard still demolishing the public realm. Local authorities were confronting impossible choices and anticipating imminent crises for social care and other essential services. Abject poverty was more accepted (witness the development of Food Banks), more intractable and also more visible than at any time in my working life. The 16% increase in the number of rough sleepers in 2016 announced last week is the latest evidence but surely no surprise to anyone who walks at night through any UK town or city centre.

The PM began 2017 with encouraging words about a “shared society” but these as yet shapeless aspirations are scant consolation to set alongside the brutal choices now facing managers in our council services, hospitals and government departments.

We at Community Links have changed our delivery models, increased our independent fundraising and reorganised our teams repeatedly since 2010. We are proud of the good things we have achieved in this difficult period but under no illusions. On a budget shorn of Legal Aid, New Deal and almost all local authority funding we do significantly less.

I wrote here last year about my profound sadness and anger at the loss of experienced people and valuable projects but surrendering to sentiment is a craven indulgence. Wiser by far to regroup and renew the charge. Community Links is still a big organisation. We could just reorganise again for the new financial year, thousands of charities across the UK do great work with far less, but we don’t think battling on in isolation optimises our assets. In this extraordinarily challenging environment we can do better together. That’s what will be getting me out of bed in the morning now, determined to advance again in the new alliance.

Important things won’t change. We decided when we began that a sense of local ownership was crucial to a model that was all about helping people help themselves. At the same time we believed that the learning from our local experience could be of value to other practitioners and should also be shared with policy makers and politicians. Community Links developed a special mix of the local and the national that has characterised our work ever since. This won’t change.

Going forward with an organisation that has a far bigger footprint and greater financial stability will enable Community Links to sustain those crucial local services, to connect with new networks and to continue to innovate and contribute to the wider business of making the world a better place. It is a smart, pragmatic alliance but it is also much more than that: The new arrangement will enable the future stewards of our organisation, to continue to live the values that have made us what we are. This matters partly because we believe that moral certainty is always important and particularly because we think it will be even more important in the years ahead:

When Community Links started the public, the private and the voluntary were clearly separate sectors. Now charities are anxious to be seen to be “business like”, businesses to stress how much they care and statutory services to do both. New forms like CICs and B.Corps, mutuals and social enterprises further muddy the waters. Indeed two of Community Links own most successful ventures in recent years are now an independent free school (Education Links) and a charitable foundation building social businesses (Shift).

In this crowded arena there will be no enduring logic in ministers pledging support exclusively to the voluntary sector or independent funders supporting only registered charities. Don’t look in the Mem and Arts for the distinguishing signifiers in the future, find them in the beliefs and behaviours.

As we enter this big birthday year at Community Links we believe that the values that have served us well since 1977 can be most effectively sustained and fulfilled through partnership with Catch22.  This is, for us, the forward thinking, 2017 way:

“To generate change. To tackle causes not symptoms, find solutions not palliatives. To recognise that we all need to give as well as to receive and to appreciate that those who experience a problem understand it best. To act local but think global, teach but never stop learning. To distinguish between the diversity that enriches our society and the inequalities that diminish it. To grow – but all to build a network not an empire. To be driven by dreams, judged on delivery. To never do things for people but to guide and support, to train and enable, to simply inspire.” (The Community Links statement of purpose)

Nurturing relationships: The test of a shared society

Monday, January 16th, 2017

How many contacts do you have stored on your phone? The head of an adolescent mental health unit once told me that his patients typically had 6 to 10 contacts listed and most of those people were likely to be professional helpers like himself. Social isolation could be both a cause and a consequence of his young patient’s ill health. It was certainly a common characteristic.

I was thinking about this when I read about the Age Concern research published last week revealing that “Half a million people over the age of 60 usually spend each day alone, with no interaction with others, and nearly half a million more commonly do not see or speak to anyone for five or six days a week”.

And whilst we are on the subject of alarming numbers an Action for Children survey of 2,000 parents in 2015 found that almost a quarter said they ‘always or often’ felt lonely.

Social isolation is not a problem for the young or for the old. It is a galloping crisis for us all

Last week we wondered on this blog whether a “shared society” is empty rhetoric or the PM’s genuine intention. If the phrase has any serious substance our collective ability to reconnect with one another, or at least to reverse the trends, must surely be the test.

The consequences may vary – loneliness, ill health, long term unemployment etc. – but the roots are the same. School performance, economic opportunities, physical and mental health, and ultimately life expectancy are all substantially influenced by the strength and depth of our social connections. Very few of us glide effortlessly through life without ever experiencing any difficulty. Our capacity for coping and bouncing back depends in part on our readiness, our acquired skills and strengths, and in part on the support around us, the networks and relationships which sustain and recharge us.

We often make the case for early action but nowhere is it more self-evidently essential. As the Early Action Task Force has noted befriending schemes are important but not sufficient. They are to loneliness what food banks are to poverty – an essential response to a crisis but not a long term solution. The early action response to isolation would involve a commitment to sustained community building throughout the life course – essentially what much of Community Links work on the ground has been all about for almost 40 years.

As we explored on this blog a few weeks ago technology has, in recent years, swept into every corner of our lives often, in the process, sweeping out friendships and relationships. We think people change lives, not transactions. Valuing and developing this element of deep value in our services here, and working to embed it more broadly across the public domain is another long standing priority for Community Links and now more urgent than ever.

The most useful work experience placements or internships are invariably shared across “warm networks” and as many as 8 out of 10 new jobs go to people known to the employer. The old cliché about it not being “what you know but who you know” is still a fair comment on the state of social mobility and, more broadly, on the distribution of opportunity in communities like ours. Building networks, and nurturing the confidence to negotiate them, is the focus of Community Links programmes like Future Links which won a Charity Times Award last October. It isn’t rocket science but it is important and it does work.

Incidental Connections showed that there is no single right way to build communities and to nurture effective and meaningful relationships but doing it better in 2017 may well be the single highest priority for organisations like ours, Jobcentres, GPs, police officers, schools, and indeed any agency in the public domain. Whether Theresa May is, or is not, seriously committed to building a shared society, we should be.

Acting early this Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Wednesday, October 5th, 2016

“If Julie hadn’t detected her cancer early what would have been the cost? Not just to the NHS, but the loss of income to her family, let alone the human cost of her suffering. She worked full time, had a family, two children and a partner. What would have happened to them?”

Community Links Health Projects Manager, Frances Clarke, knows all too well the importance of detecting cancer early. This is a particularly pertinent issue in Newham, which has some of the worst cancer survival rates in the country, with only half of women over 50 in the borough attending breast cancer screening, compared with almost three-quarters of women for the rest of England.

In 2010 Community Links decided to take tackle these unacceptable figures, and establish two new programmes dedicated to Detecting Cancer Early. The first telephones people at risk to persuade them to attend screenings, as letter invitations and other reminder services weren’t working. The second acts even earlier by going into schools to explain the signs and symptoms of cancer, the importance of self-examining, and to encourage students to raise awareness with their parents.

A culturally sensitive calling and health advocacy service

Our calling project contacts women five to seven days before a breast screening appointment. Team members can speak a variety of languages and have a detailed knowledge of their local communities. It began as a reminder service, but soon evolved into health advocacy, as callers recognised that people were often unaware of screening services or had practical reasons stopping them from attending. Now callers reschedule appointments, give house-to-clinic travel directions and tell people about local services if they are carers. Funded by NHS England, the breast screening project now reaches 20,000 women every year, working in Camden and Newham.

Working with children and parents in schools

Our schools project has raised awareness of breast and lung cancer in eight schools in Newham. It’s different because rather than visiting for one-off lessons, it works with staff to embed the project into school activities over the long-term. It runs field trips for pupils to see cancer screening and interactive peer-led health lessons with cancer survivors, incorporates cancer awareness into other lessons, and spreads its message through newsletters, displays and social media, engaging parents at performance and parents’ evenings.

Increasing awareness, uptake of screening, and self-checking

The screening project increased women’s uptake of breast screening by 15% in consecutive years, whilst the schools project found that girls’ knowledge of breast cancer symptoms increased by 58% and by 54% among mums. The number of mums who self-check monthly also rose to 46% and their awareness of local screening services increased by a third.

This dual approach demonstrates that everyday social interactions, a friendly phone call or family conversation can literally save lives by encouraging early detection. Frances Clarke said “we’re saving people’s lives immediately, but we’re also giving people skills for life to continue self-examining and spreading information to the generations above and the generations below. Grounded in Community Links core principles of early action and deep value relationships, this approach also reduces demand on already overstretched NHS cancer services, freeing up vital resources for those who need it most.

With Breast Cancer Awareness Month upon us again, it is more important than ever to focus our energies on practical early action solutions to beat breast cancer.  Our ‘Detecting Cancer Early’ programme is just one of many early action projects that we are featuring in our online case study gallery.

Partnership success that builds brighter futures for young people

Thursday, September 29th, 2016

Last night Community Links and our corporate partners Bank of New York Mellon won the Corporate Community Local Involvement Charity Times Award for our Future Links employability programme.

Since 2009 this fantastic project has enabled hundreds of young people furthest from the labour market to develop the necessary skills to progress into work or further education, with 85% of our graduates moving into a positive destination.

Our CEO, Arvinda Gohil, who attended the awards, said:

“I am delighted at this result, many congratulations and well done to everyone who was involved and continues to be involved in this great partnership. My particular thanks and congratulations to the young people who have participated in this programme and made it such a success over the last 8 years.”        

Key to the programme’s success is the longstanding partnership and support of our corporate sponsor BNY Mellon. Long-term partnerships with companies are invaluable to organisations like Community Links, enabling us to plan ahead, build our sustainability and innovate. This national recognition of the strong local partnership we’ve developed provides an opportunity to reflect on what’s key to a successful relationship between a charity and a company.

Future Links supports young people aged between 16-19 years old who live in Newham and who are not in education, employment or training (NEET). The training is focused on building the confidence, resilience, networks and skills of our young people and supporting them through the job application process. Alongside being the sole funder of Future Links, BNY Mellon plays an important role in the programme delivery. Participants visit their offices twice during each 10 week course – receiving support from employees with their CVs and interview skills and attending a graduation celebration at the end.

Future Links success would not be possible without the support of BNY Mellon and our skilled and committed programme staff, who dedicate so much time, energy and enthusiasm to the young people they work with. At the end of the day, Future Links’ success is a reflection on the hundreds of young people who have worked so hard over the years, and who have built brighter futures for themselves, their families and their communities.

Love, trust and the teachable moment

Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

Three months ago today politicians were united across the normal divides in paying tribute to Jo Cox, their murdered colleague. I doubt whether the word “love” has been used in the House of Commons as many times in the entire lifetime of a government as it was in that single afternoon. Love was, they agreed, Ms Cox’s defining characteristic, love of family and friends, love of constituency and colleagues, love of humanity.

Listening to the tributes I was reminded of a phrase used by our health worker colleagues. They talk about “teachable moments” – the period immediately after a scare or a near miss, a cancer alarm, an illness affecting someone we know –  a time when we are most likely to respond to messages about changing our behaviour because we have been shocked into a new  perspective. These are the moments when the truly important breaks through our casual acceptance of routines, conventions and mindless habit. How often have we all heard people at funerals or memorial services say “it makes you think about what really matters”?  Perhaps we have said it ourselves.

Briefly and optimistically I thought those last days of June were national  “moments” and that the awful shock of the murder might jolt politicians, and more broadly our national discourse, into a new appreciation of love and trust.

I was heartened at the time because I thought it showed a common acceptance that love should be the guiding principle at the heart of public life, public services and public discourse even if articulating the idea and acting on it is potentially awkward, sensitive and complex.  The quality and depth of human relationships, not the efficacy of the transaction, determine the value of the outcome. The transfer of knowledge or the delivery of a service may create the necessary conditions for progress but it is the special attributes  of the human bond that  console and strengthen, that nourish confidence, inspire self esteem, unlock potential, erode inequality and so have the power to transform. This is what we at Community Links calls the “deep value” in a successful relationship. It is not just about the spending of time but also about, in the words of  Cicely Saunders, “the depth of time.”

What, in practise, might this mean?

For government it means devolving power not only to cities and regions, thats just a beginning, but to the smallest viable unit of delivery. None of us feel human in organisations where everyone is just a number, and often a very long one. Policy makers used to talk about “double devolution” – from Whitehall to City hall, then from City Hall to neighbourhoods and communities. The phrase, and the practise, seems to have been forgotten in the most recent, welcome but inadequate, wave of half measures. It should be recalled.

For public service agencies, in all sectors,  it means conditions and protocols that recognise the primacy of the human interaction in all that they do, prioritising staff discretion and autonomy, systematising the consistency and stability of the client / provider relationships, planning ample time for relationship building and rigorously and  unambiguously separating  policing and supporting.

And for individual workers and small teams it means a clear set of competencies that can be articulated, taught, managed , appraised and replicated just like any other essential skill.

These would be ambitious and wide ranging changes, collectively revolutionary, but they all begin with having the maturity to talk about love and trust, the insight to understand its importance and the courage to design it into legislation, to services, to organisational processes and to our national discourse, not, as so often today, to very deliberately design it out.

Occasionally a debate in the House of Commons captures a public mood and elevates it. June 20th was such a moment. We share a responsibility to preserve the opportunity that it gave us, to nurture the new perspectives that it revealed and, step by step, to be directed less by custom and practise, rigid convention, unthinking adherence to rules and rote and guided more by our better angels.

 

 

This piece first appeared on : A Better Way –  the blog  of a new network of social activists challenging business as usual, improving services, and building  strong communities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Acting earlier on child protection: is care the only option?

Tuesday, June 28th, 2016

Following a number of high-profile child deaths, social services’ increased aversion to risk coupled with a political drive to hasten and increase adoption has led to applications to take children into care hitting a record high.

 photo VSF_zpseh2m3v5s.jpg

Image courtesy of Volunteering Matters

A number of public figures have raised concerns about this rapid rise in applications, including Sir James Munby, president of the high family court division, and Dave Hill, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services. Their common message is that adoption is always an option for those that need it, but a more balanced approach should be taken to ensure that families are not being broken up unnecessarily. The process of removing a child from their family is inevitably traumatic, and the current system is not always providing the high quality care needed for children to achieve better outcomes. Furthermore, foster and residential care is extremely expensive, costing local authorities roughly £2.5 billion a year. With social services across the country already straining under the pressure of cuts, it’s clear we need to rethink how children’s services can be provided more efficiently, whilst ensuring the best outcomes for children and families.

Rethinking how we protect children

As part of our work on building a case study gallery to showcase examples of early action, we’ve come across a number of projects that are taking a different approach to child protection, and supporting children’s services in the process.

In our ‘Rough Guide to Early Action’ we featured the Ceredigion CAB and Children and Families Services’ ‘Specialist Intervention Team’ (SIT), whose caseworkers are supporting families to address the underlying socio-economic problems which are often limiting parents’ capacity to look after their children, such as insecure housing, a lack of income, or high levels of debt. One third of families say that without the support of SIT, their children would have been taken into care. The team is also delivering significant savings by preventing social services from having to escalate their involvement.

More recently we interviewed Volunteering Matters’ about their ‘Volunteers Supporting Families’ (VSF) project, which has supported vulnerable families and children in a number of local authorities since its inception in 2004. VSF is premised on the notion that keeping children safe is the responsibility of the whole community – not only the parents. The project has yielded some very impressive results. By building trust and developing impartial relationships with parents, volunteers help families to make the changes needed to create a safe and stable environment for their children.

We’ve always emphasised that early action can take place at any stage of prevention; Pause is an example of intervention at a very late stage that nonetheless helps to break the traumatic cycle for mothers repeatedly having their children taken into care. Pause gives these women space to reflect, enabling them to overcome challenges and build new skills. Still being piloted, the programmes are already beginning to show promising results, with women being supported into a range of services and no further pregnancies to date. Pause estimate that if they support 100 women for five years, they could deliver possible savings of £10 million for social services.

Key ingredients for acting earlier

There are a number of parallels between these examples that can teach us something about taking an early action approach towards family breakdown.

Firstly, parents’ ability to look after their children is often limited by underlying factors, such as socioeconomic drivers, physical and mental health, and family conflict. Accordingly, preventing breakdown requires a holistic approach which overcomes silo-working and ensures that families get the support they need. As Lisa McFadzean of SIT often points out to social workers “let me threaten you with eviction, redundancy or stop your income altogether. Let me give you a bailiff knocking at the door demanding money. Tell me how effectively you’re going to parent?”

Secondly, using a third party, be they a professional or a volunteer, as broker between families and social services can often encourage parents to engage. Third parties have more time to devote to developing deep value relationships than a social worker does, making parents more willing to disclose information and confide their problems.

And finally, acting early reduces considerable social and financial costs. By ensuring that those who can be helped early are supported, this frees up resources to focus on more complex and serious cases. Enabling people to care for their children and equipping them with strategies to increase their resilience ensures that they are able to lead happy, healthy and more productive lives, whilst contributing more and costing less.

It’s easy to despair when considering the huge challenges currently facing our social services, yet these examples demonstrate that redesigning services can offer a more sustainable future. To achieve this at a systemic level, political and funding structures must be transformed, which is of course easier said than done. Yet we must continue to push for this, given that the choice is to prevent now or pay tomorrow; with children’s futures in the balance, is that a risk we are willing to take?

Sending out an SOS: how early action can break the cycle of reoffending

Wednesday, June 8th, 2016

The Early Action Task Force is currently building on its latest report, ‘A Rough Guide to Early Action’, by creating an early action case study online gallery. Below is a sneak peek into one of our new case studies, the St Giles Trust SOS Project… 

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Junior Smart, Founder of SOS Project. (Image by Emmanuelle Purdon.)

St Giles Trust’s SOS project was founded by Junior Smart in 2006, an ex-offender working for the trust who had experienced the destructive cycle of gangs, violence and crime. The project is designed to help vulnerable young people caught up in criminal lifestyles – often gang related – to enable them to realise their aspirations in education, training or employment and ultimately reduce violent and weapons crime.

 Why is this early action?

According to the National Audit Office it costs nearly £250 million each year to detain young offenders, with 73% of them re-offending within a year. Gang crime is also hugely costly, both in terms of destroying the lives of gang members, their family members, and their victims, and of policing, prosecuting, and incarcerating offenders. The Government estimates that 50% of shootings and 22% of violent crime in London are perpetrated by gang members.

Preventing violent crime by breaking people’s involvement allows them to contribute to society, improves their family’s prospects, and makes their communities safer by reducing the likelihood that their peers are drawn into crime. SOS does so through an emphasis on shared experience and building relationships, training ex-offenders as caseworkers to work with gang members providing one-to-one holistic support tailored to the individual’s needs.

 How does it work?

Initially piloted in Southwark, SOS is now the largest gang exit service in London, operating in 14 boroughs and funded by local authorities, corporates, philanthropists, and charitable trusts. It operates through St. Giles Trust’s Peer Advisor model, using ex-offenders as frontline caseworkers and training them whilst in prison to give high-level advice and guidance. Not only is this experience powerful in breaking down barriers with gang members, it also provides caseworkers with a meaningful qualification to find well paid employment upon release.

SOS develops one-to-one relationships that are available 24/7 to build trust and encourage individuals to turn their lives around. Caseworkers provide support in family mediation, finding solutions to housing needs, enabling them to break ties with destructive friendships and move towards education or employment. SOS is about implementing pragmatic solutions that lead to behaviour change.

SOS also works in schools through SOS+, using ex-offenders to inform at risk young people about the dangers of gang involvement, de-glamorising the lifestyle, and raising awareness about how they can stay safe. One-to-one support is given to particularly vulnerable young people. SOS is also delivered through Expect Respect which works exclusively with young women, offering one-to-one support to those at risk of sexual and violent exploitation associated with gang involvement.

What has it achieved?

SOS ultimately aims to prevent gang crime by helping clients end gang involvement and getting them into work and decent housing. An evaluation by The Social Innovation Partnership found that 87% of SOS clients interviewed changed their attitude to offending. Over 75% of clients move into employment or training, and 75% into decent housing. Mainly, though, it was clients’ relationship with caseworkers that had the greatest effect in changing behaviour as caseworkers’ experience allowed them to challenge clients whilst ultimately giving support.

According to a cost benefit analysis of its work with high risk prison leavers, St. Giles Trust reduces reoffending by an additional 40% compared to the national average. It’s testament to St. Giles Trust’s transformative effect, not just among its clients but staff as well; of 23 SOS caseworkers who left school without any qualifications, eight now hold degrees. It demonstrates St. Giles Trust’s ethos of not dismissing individual’s capabilities because of their past, and caseworkers’ great determination to improve their clients’ lives, as well as their own.

 What can we learn?

The intensive, empathetic and 1:1 relation-building between caseworkers and clients is key to SOS’s success. 75% of clients said that their caseworker being an ex-offender was crucial in making them want to change their lives. Having a team of caseworkers who’ve experienced the hardships their clients face makes them particularly determined to persist in maintaining the relationship for as long as it takes, whilst also showing clients that they have to want to change for themselves. What’s significant about the SOS project and St. Giles Trust’s work more generally is in showing that changing behaviours of the most entrenched, challenging and complex clients only works through relation-building because people who are disengaged from all other services need a consistent, flexible and personal source of support.

 

Find out more

Further information on SOS can be found here.

Watch a film about the SOS Project here.