Seeking influence

When Carolyn Caldwell walked into an empty office on 6 May last
year, she was marking the birth of a new organisation as well as a
new career. Connexions, the government’s advice and support
service for 13 to 19 year olds, felt it needed an independent voice
and the former social work manager was appointed to lead the newly
formed National Association of Connexions Partnerships.

Caldwell wanted a fresh challenge after 29 years in social
services and swapped her job as assistant director for children and
families at Nottingham social services to set up NACP from

When she applied for the role she saw it as a chance to
influence services “for large numbers of young people rather than
the small minority that come across your threshold at social

Caldwell says the inspiration for the NACP came from staff
involved in Connexions’ predecessors, local authority-based
careers services.

“Many of the Connexions chief executives formerly ran careers
services and they had an association to lobby government and
promote their work,” she explains. Connexions’ chiefs thought
Connexions partnerships would benefit from a similar arrangement,
she adds.

Without an independent voice, professionals can do little to
influence government. Youth offending teams have already joined
forces to set up an independent association, and it will be
interesting to see whether the local organisations that deliver
other big government programmes for children, the Children’s
Fund and Sure Start, follow suit.

The NACP, which is based in Sheffield, was funded by
partnerships’ subscriptions. It has a staff of three. “We
represent the views of the partnerships, act as a discussion forum,
and promote communication,” says Caldwell. The association also has
an important role in promoting and supporting good practice, she

The 47 Connexions partnerships in England have been phased in
since April 2001. “The longest established partnerships can prevent
the newest from reinventing the wheel,” she says.

The key role in Connexions is played by personal advisers who
steer young people through the maze of education and career
opportunities as well as support those struggling with depression,
drug abuse and sexual health problems.

Caldwell says developing the professional nature of the personal
adviser role is high on the NACP’s agenda. During a career
spanning six different council social services departments and five
years in the voluntary sector, she has watched the social work role
develop into a recognised profession. She says the adviser role
needs to undergo the same process.

In some ways the job is a hybrid, she says. “Some people see it
as a careers adviser, others as a youth or social worker. Defining
what personal advisers do is one issue we have to tackle.”

Another key aspect of the organisation’s business plan is
to establish a dialogue with the Connexions Service National Unit
at the DfES. “We aim to develop routine consultancy so we can get
involved early on in the work they’re doing. I thought they
might be a bit wary of us but so far the contact has been very

Departmental civil servants would do well to make friends with
the NACP. When Connexions was introduced there were concerns about
the service’s ability to offer quality services across the
board. A perennial concern is that careers advice is being
sidelined as partnerships struggle to meet government targets to
help the most excluded youngsters.

Caldwell says feedback suggests the partnerships are working
well and that young people are happy with the service.

Whatever aspect of the service is under scrutiny, she says, “we
must ask ourselves is this going to help young people and if not
why are we doing it at all?”

– National Association of Connexions Partnerships at

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