A problem shared

    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
    and honey.

    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
    expectations.”

    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
    effectively.

    “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
    says.

    Curriculum Vitae:

    Name: Glynis Bliss.

    Job: County director of Victim Support,
    Northamptonshire.

    Qualifications: City & Guilds – community
    and social care; BTec – voluntary sector management.

    Last job: Social worker with mentally ill older
    people.

    First job: Firearms and aliens officer, a
    civilian post within the police force. 

    TOP TIPS

    • Be committed and allow plenty of time to understand each
      other’s organisations.
    • Make sure there is a lead agency and provide direction to keep
      the project focused.
    • Keep sustainable and traceable links to key people and
      funders. 

    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.

     

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