If social care was a fruit machine, the idea of partnership
working would be its “three lemons” moment. Joint working? Eureka!
It will instantly transform barren wastelands into lands of milk
But while the notion is divinely simple, the devil is in the
detail. Partnerships can’t and won’t just happen – you have to work
at them. Indeed, the successes and pitfalls of partnership were
manifest in a joint project in Northamptonshire led by the national
charity Victim Support, which provides free and confidential advice
and support to people affected by crime.
“Last year, working with Women’s Aid, police and lifelong
learning, we received a £10,000 grant from the community
safety partnership to develop a joint project to research the needs
of victims of domestic abuse within the western area of the county
– a large rural area which includes the market towns of
Daventry, Towcester and Brackley,” says Glynis Bliss, county
director of Victim Support, Northamptonshire.
“By using existing resources more effectively, we wanted to
establish the needs of victims of domestic abuse and determine how
a multi-agency approach could meet those needs,” she says.
A working group including one person from each agency was set
up, as was a strategic group to manage the project. “We wanted to
see what services were already being provided and how we might be
able to piggy-back onto them. For example, lifelong learning might
seem an unusual partner for a domestic abuse project but the mobile
library visits several very small villages and hamlets in the
western area. We could certainly make information available but
perhaps also begin to look at having a worker attached to the
library to provide outreach services,” she says.
Although the project did achieve positive outcomes, for example
on improved cross-referrals, and working together on planned
responses and packages of care, for Bliss it was particularly
successful in terms of learning. “We learned a lot about what not
to do and what was needed to get projects like this off to a
kick-start,” she says.
“We learned that having separate working and strategic groups
simply didn’t work. The working group floundered in the first few
months without someone there to provide direction and control.
Although each worker was very committed in carrying out their own
responsibilities they weren’t able to link well together. Tensions
arose between workers and it wasn’t achieving the intended outputs,
so halfway through the year we amalgamated the groups. After that
things greatly improved.”
Unsurprisingly, communication also improved, but that was far
from instant. Says Bliss: “It really needed time for trust and
understanding to develop between the agencies and workers. Barriers
included misunderstandings, lack of confidence and overly high
Another difficulty arose concerning data collection. “There was
a tension, for example, between the statutory and voluntary
agencies. Resource differences ranged from what computers and
software each agency had, to what capabilities there were for
common case recording and case management systems. These were big
issues that weren’t resolved in the lifetime of the project.”
Sadly, as can happen with such projects, key individuals moved
on with subsequent delays in allocating replacements. Two who left
had previously provided strong links to funders, and their loss led
to the failure to secure funding for the project’s proposed second
and third years.
For Bliss, the positive outcomes (for example, new client
interview bases opened, the training of Home Start volunteers, and
strong promotional material being distributed through links with
health and education) outweighed the difficulties. “Everything was
an add-on to people’s work – we couldn’t afford a project worker
and that made us extend our thinking to meet needs more
“We hoped that by joining up we would become more efficient and
effective. The challenge now is to keep our final report and
recommendations alive: to see individual agencies continue to
include domestic violence within their targets and plans – and free
up management team to make sure that work is carried out,” she
Name: Glynis Bliss.
Job: County director of Victim Support,
Qualifications: City & Guilds – community
and social care; BTec – voluntary sector management.
Last job: Social worker with mentally ill older
First job: Firearms and aliens officer, a
civilian post within the police force.
- Be committed and allow plenty of time to understand each
- Make sure there is a lead agency and provide direction to keep
the project focused.
- Keep sustainable and traceable links to key people and
RUBBISH TIPS <
- Use working groups as a personal support system: they make
great talking or off-loading shops.
- Stick to partnering the usual suspects – better the devil you
know. That way there are fewer surprises.
- All well and good being a partner, but remember where your
first loyalty lies.