Podcast Episode: Protecting people through partnerships: WithScotland Conference 2012
Category: Social work (general)
What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.
MD - Michelle Drumm
TW - Tom Wood
BS - Beth Smith
JB - Joy Barlow
BD - Brigid Daniel
Iriss.fm had the pleasure of attending the first WithScotland conference which was held at Stirling Management Centre on 25th October. Formerly the Scottish Childcare and Protection Network and the Multi-Agency Resource Service, respectively known as SCCPN and MARS - both organisations joined forces to become WithScotland in the summer of 2012. The theme of the conference was ‘Protecting people through partnerships’. Iriss.fm spoke to Tom Wood, Chair of East & Midlothian Child and Adult Protection committees and chair of the conference, who offered some insight into partnership working, what it actually means and the importance of structures in ensuring its success.
MD Well thanks for talking to me Tom.
TW Thank you.
MD Can you tell me just a little bit about your background and why you are here today?
TW Well my background, I spent the early years of my life in the Police service - I was a policeman for the first 30 years of my working life. I then went to work as the Leader of the Edinburgh Alcohol and Drug Action Team. After that I went to work in Early Interventions, and 3 years ago I took on the role as the Independent Chair of both the Adult and the Child Protection committees in 2 council areas - East and Midlothian.
MD Can you tell me a little bit about the significance of this event?
TW The significance of this event is that for years now, for 20 years now we have talked about partnership and we have always known that partnership is a good idea. But today is really the next step, because the truth of the matter is - while we have talked about partnership, and in some cases partnership has worked well, in many other cases frankly it hasn’t … frankly it’s just been people meeting and talking and not actually doing it. so for me, today is about putting much more of a structure and a shape round what partnership means. And partnership means actually not getting what you want ideally, but actually sacrificing some of your ideals for the common good. That is hard to do, but we have to do it - especially as we approach this time of financial restraint.
MD And you say it is hard to do - so what are some of the challenges around partnership working?
TW Giving up power, because a successful partnership means giving up power, it means actually settling for not quite the ideal as you would wish to have it within your own professional interest, but actually sacrificing that in the common good - and that means giving up power, that means sometimes giving up money, and that sometimes means giving up your idea - that is hard to do.
MD Do you also think it involves good relationship skills?
TW Of course it does - people skills matter and people have got to have mutual respect and a mutual understanding for what each other do. And sometimes, surprisingly, that doesn’t exist. Sometimes we think we know what other people do, but we don’t actually know what other people do. So I think people skills are important - got to be structures as well though - got to be structures, got to be support, but also regard.
MD Great - a lot of the presentations today are around community planning partnerships. can you just tell us a bit about what community planning is?
TW Well community planning should be … should be the umbrella group which makes sure that all these pieces come together. Community Planning Partnerships should be the top level groups which absolutely ensure that all the partners are playing their part effectively. Now in some cases, Community Planning Partnerships do that very well. In other cases, frankly they don’t. But effective Community Planning Partnerships are actually the solution to the partnership issue.
MD And how important is inter-agency collaboration in partnership working?
TW Hugely important, hugely important - there has got to be structure around that. It is not enough having good people and good intentions - you have got to have systems. You have got to have systems in place so that everybody knows what their professional duty is, otherwise it will slip. It will different throughout Scotland, and actually we are a small country and there should be some consistency.
MD And can you just tell me a little bit about your approach in East and Midlothian as regards partnership working?
TW Well I mean we have a joint East and Midlothian Adult Protection Committee, and we have a joint East and Midlothian Child Protection Committee. We have a joint Mid and East Lothian Alcohol and Drugs Partnership. And all of these partners come together under the Community Safety Partnership banner, and we are working towards … and it is not perfect yet, but we are working towards much greater collaboration. Now to give an example, at the moment our Alcohol and Drug Partnership is carrying out a very thorough, very detailed needs assessment, because frankly, our child protection interface and our alcohol and drugs interface have not been sufficiently combined. There has not been the cohesion there should be - now there is cooperation and there is professional respect and there is combined working, but it is still not tied together as much as it should be. So we are taking a very structured approach to try and improve that.
MD And what would you like people to take away from this event today?
TW Good intentions and good people are not enough, and you have to have systems. And underlying people working together and all the fine ideals of partnership, you have got to have discipline - and that discipline is about joint planning, joint commissioning of service, which is hard, and it’s about service level agreements. It is all very well to be friends, and it is all very well to have mutual respect and to meet each other - but you have actually got to have that thread of business and a contract running between agencies. I hope the people go away from this conference and think about that.
MD Beth Smith, Director of WithScotland, also spoke to us about the importance of partnership working, the challenges and the role of WithScotland and the public in protecting people.
MD How important is partnership working in order to protect people?
BS It kind of seems that you can’t do very much without working in partnership, and I think what we have heard today - that comes at a strategic level, but also at an operational level, and in terms of direct intervention, you know, with people who are at risk of harm - and that we need that multi-agency partnership, whether it’s around the child or the adult. And we need the multi-agency partnership at committee level to be driving forward change.
MD What are the challenges to developing partnerships in practice do you think?
BS I think what we have heard today is about some of the … there is organisational challenges - and not every organisation perhaps has the same value or ethos. And it is also about - a lot of partnerships, I think, are built on relationships, people get along with each other and that is good while they are in that post. So there is something about partnerships, the challenge of driving partnerships forward from the bottom up and the top down. So I think again we have heard about there needs to be that culture of change as well as the organisational change. So I think there is also … I suppose it is about overcoming your own, maybe professional prejudice or preciousness, and about thinking about what you actually bring to the table, but equally what do the other people bring to the table - and giving up some territory. I think David was interesting when he talked about that wider world of community planning, but he then was talking about how partnerships … the partnerships that he has been involved in, but not everything has to be done in partnership. And I think that is another important component, that each kind of professional discipline brings their own strength. But there are times when we can do things alone, I think even as part of that wider partnership - and I think he gave the good example of NHS and when he was having an operation he wouldn’t expect that to be done by committee.
MD Yes, absolutely not.
BS You know, so sometimes people have a role and a job and they need to get on with that - but I think it’s so long as they are actually talking. I think where partnerships are probably more effective is where they are trying to pull together vision, values, targets, money, all of that on the table - and we heard some good examples of how in one particular area, for example, Falkirk, how that is being done, all towards better outcomes for children.
MD And how important do you think is the evidence base for partnership working and is there enough of it?
BS Well I think it is interesting, I had been … when I was looking about the sort of background myself in terms of partnerships and what works - I think it is quite hard to find some of the evidence base. I think it is there, I think there has been a lot of research, but it is maybe not disseminated in a way that’s, I suppose that people can find easily. But I think there has been a lot of partnership tools that have been developed recently, and it might be a good idea, it would be worthwhile to look at how people have used these partnership tools which are based on evidence about what actually makes a partnership work. And I know certainly if I have been leading on a partnership, we have tried to use some tools to help, you know, look at our own effectiveness. So I think there could probably be more use of that. And again, Margaret talked about that “so what” question - so it’s like how do you know that you are making a difference?
MD There is possibly more of a role for some managed brokering.
BS I think so, I think so. I mean I think there is certainly a lot of theory around, but it is how you then translate that theory into the reality of what is happening on the ground.
MD So what is WithScotland’s role then in protection?
BS Well we started off very small, and in response to a national enquiry, which was the Care & Protection of Children in the Western Isles. And that recommendation was that there should be a national resource which would benefit all agencies, everybody who was working in the area of child protection, in the recognition that not everybody can be an expert in everything. We weren’t set up as a centre of excellence, but really it was to harness knowledge and it was to broker expertise, both in terms of research and practice. So I do think we have a key role in terms of supporting professionals, both individually and also strategically, and trying to get them that help and expertise and support and consultancy when they need it.
MD And do you think there is a role for the public, or responsibility for the public in developing partnership working?
BS Absolutely I do, and I think again today we have heard a lot about the role of citizens and citizenship. Certainly our website now, we have a public information part of the website which is key messages for the public, but also how the public can report concerns about a child directly to the relevant team. And there is a public awareness and a public engagement group that is operating under the auspices of the Scottish Child Protection Committee Chairs Forum, and they are certainly looking at how we can engage, not just tokenistic engagement, but actually engage in it. is the thing about, you know, people are actually … they are the leaders and they have the knowledge in their own life, and they know what works. And I think, yes, there needs to be more of that.
MD In your presentation earlier on you mentioned that the way things are done by a series of small things brought together … can you just comment a bit more about that?
BS Yes, I just think, if I take our own example, it is about doing the small things well, and it’s the series of small things but joining up with others. And I think there is almost like that snowballing effect, you know, that you can build momentum and you can build capacity, and I think if you have got lots of small organisations and how you can actually work better together. So I suppose I was thinking about how I marked our journey from the small beginnings - there was only 3 of us. There was the Network Coordinator, there was myself and a colleague in MARS - and how, you know, we just have been able to, you know, small things over the last 3 years, kind of build that momentum, you know, working with others and working in partnership, and making the connections between some of the other small things that have been happening.
MD Joy Barlow, Strategic Advisor at STRADA, Scottish Training on Drugs and Alcohol, offered her thoughts on the significance of the event, especially for those working in drugs and alcohol services.
JB Well I think it is a really important event in the sense, from our, STRADA’s perspective, in terms of drug alcohol misuse, impact on children - is to actually get people talking out-with their silo’s. So the fact that alcohol and drug partnerships who are in the same planning partnerships as child protection committees actually begin to work together, both at strategic and operational levels. So you broaden out the understanding, both for drugs and alcohol services and for child welfare and protection services - that actually they are all in this together. There has got to be, as I have entitled my presentation ‘Joining Up of the Dots’.
MD She goes on to speak about her presentation at the event and offers her opinion on the importance of partnership working and the challenges involved.
JB Yes, the brief was to speak about the relationships between alcohol and drug partnerships and the child protection committees, to look at drug and alcohol policy in the context of recovery, and to say something about the update of getting our priorities right. So I am going to be talking really about focus on recovery, about what updated GOPR is saying and then the need for essential and strategic partnership.
MD How important do you think partnership working is?
JB Well it’s absolutely vital as far as the issues of substance use are concerned, because it is not just substance use per say - there are the major issues around child protection obviously, violence against women, domestic abuse, mental health, the issues of criminal justice - and where they all sit in the current real silo’s in terms of policy. I think I am going to give you the right quotation - I have certainly got it written in my presentation - but in Hamlet, Claudia says “spies come not as single spies, but in battalions”. And for the children affected by problem drug and alcohol use, their problems are manifold, they are in battalions. And if we don’t get the partnerships at strategic and at operational level right, those children for whom I am particularly interested and concerned, will never get the services they should get.
MD And what do you think are the challenges to those partnerships…
JB Well certainly, I am going to be saying later on that certainly the big hindrance is the lack of joined up policy, the silo’s of governmental strategy and policy, the problems of those silo’s producing funding which never meets anywhere but comes down in the silo’d streams. But I think there are also other hindrances as well - and the biggest hindrance, I believe, is whether there is actually strategic leadership as far as all of this is concerned. It is all very well to say “we are interested in … we realise that there is such vulnerabilities”, but actually to say that is, if I can say, pretty cheap - to actually deliver it is resource intensive, potentially resource expensive in terms of fiscal issues, and I know that is not the environment in which we are now living. So if you put that one aside and say “well what about doing better with what we have got”? If you don’t, however, have really at the top in terms of community planning, for example - and I know probably Tom has said this as well, you are on a hiding to nothing. In fact, to quote from Professor Phil Hanlon, Professor of Public Health and Glasgow, at a conference I heard on Monday - if we don’t do things differently, we are stuffed.
MD Joy concludes by offering some final comments on the importance of recovery in drug and alcohol strategy.
JB Well I think you … well certainly listeners to this will know the significant policy agenda now, particularly for drugs, is on recovery - that people can leave their drug using behaviours behind and move towards, as the Road to Recover drug strategy says, a drug free lifestyle, which is absolutely right and correct. But we have got to make sure that, as I think I am going to say later, we don’t see the recovery of parents as the panacea for all the child’s ills. Just as treatment doesn’t necessarily mean that everything in the garden is going to be rosy, recovery of parents is probably going to have a major impact on children’s lives, because there could be a sense of optimism that things are going really well - however we do know, from research, that there can be significant impact on children of change. Children don’t always see change as hugely beneficial as maybe adults do, and we have got to consider, for example, to quote from a 12 year old boy who spoke to me a few months ago who said “my Mum told me that I would never have to see her with the people who were horrible”, they were her drug using colleagues, “and now she is going to meetings with them” - because she was going to an NA meeting with many women who he saw as the nasty, bad people. And so he said to me “so she is lying to me again”. It was quite difficult to explain “well actually it is a very positive thing she is doing” - but he wasn’t seeing it that way. So there is real … again, this is hugely complex. We are not going to fix it in a trice, but we have got to actually open up some of these areas for discussion.
MD Professor Brigid Daniel, Head of Social Work at the University of Stirling, was presenting ‘Protection Across the Lifespan’, based on a series of workshops that would run across a range of different settings including child abuse, domestic abuse and protection of adults more broadly. The seminars encouraged cross-fertilisation of research and learning to develop partnership working. Brigid tells us a bit more about it.
BD This was spurred by a series of seminars that we held at Stirling where we were bringing together people from a number of different activities, to look at whether we could think of some ways of cross-fertilising ideas across different aspects of practice and research. So we had people who were working in domestic abuse, people who were looking at child abuse, people looking at elder abuse, people who were looking at the protection of vulnerable adults more broadly. I mean really trying to look at whether there is kind of more that could be done to learn from these different areas of research and practice - because at the moment we talk about practice being in silo’s, but quite a lot of the research has been in silo’s as well.
MD Do you think there is a lack of awareness around the actual evidence that is out there?
BD I think what is happening is that each practice arena is aware of the evidence for its own field, so there is lots and lots of research, for example, around domestic abuse, and people working in domestic abuse know that research very solidly. But they may not know some of the work that is going on in and around adult support and protection, for example, although there could be some overlaps. So a woman could be subject to kind of domestic abuse support and intervention, and then reach a certain age where she might be considered to be someone who is a victim of elder abuse, for example, and a whole new sort of set of concepts and theories might come into play. So we felt there was opportunities for a bit more learning across from the bits of work people were doing in different parts of the system.
MD So effectively it’s partnership working across the various disciplines as practitioners?
BD Well I think the point of the seminars here that we held was to look at whether we could learn from the different research bases to enhance the current partnership, and to encourage greater partnership working, in terms of the learning and sharing ideas and concepts across these different arenas and silo’s.
MD And what do you think people will gain from this even today?
BD I think as much as anything else, what people will gain is all sitting together in the same room - because what is very interesting about the participant list is it is bringing together a group of people who wouldn’t necessarily all be at the same conferences - which is actually partly what we found in looking at our seminar series - people interested in domestic abuse will got to conferences about domestic abuse and hear people talking about that. Whereas here we are bringing together people from a range of different settings. So as much as anything else, they’ll hear a lot from the speakers - but actually having the opportunity to discuss, compare, to meet each other, is probably going to be one of the biggest gains actually.
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