Local Partnership and Integration: Working with and in existing systems

In our last blog in the 5 Years In series, Louisa Mitchell spoke about the importance of trusted relationships when providing programmes and services to young people. But how can we know which are the right programmes and services? What do we prioritise?

Two of our values are key to this:

1. Being Evidence-led. This means we seek out the programmes and services that are proven to work and have a measurable impact.
2. Being Local. This is equally as important in our experience. We always ask: Are programmes and services accessible to families? Can families be confident that organisations are aware of their local context and history, and do they hold existing relationships in the communities where families live?

At West London Zone, we have always wanted to make the most of excellent services already working in communities by linking children and families to them, and supplementing provision through our delivery partners (many who already work locally) where provision does not exist, or there are barriers to access for the children who need the support. Our Link Workers work hard to ‘join up’ support for individual children and families from across their school and community so that it is received well and is effective.

"We have always wanted to make the most of excellent services already working in communities"

So alongside taking the time to ensure our Link Workers have the relationships to connect children and families, we also prioritise relationships at an organisational level, to establish partnerships with existing systems of support so we can work together. This takes hard work. Firstly, it can be difficult to know what is out there – families have repeatedly told us this - and this was part of the reason for designing the model in the way we did. Secondly, as a relatively new organisation delivering differently – proactively identifying children at risk of poorer outcomes in later life, using a relatively long-term programme, delivering as well as coordinating– there was potential that our role could be unclear or disruptive to the existing systems – the very opposite of what we are trying to achieve.

So how has it been going? Learning along the way has been important, and it is never perfect anywhere, but in general case studies and our relationships with local organisations and services tells us we are on the right track. When we started in our current local authorities, we focused on a partner relationship at both strategic and operational levels. The early liaison and partnership at our contracting stage with senior officers and commissioners across Early Help, Supporting Families and Inclusion in Brent, for example, has ensured good alignment with council strategic priorities from the start. In Westminster, we were invited to join the Early Help Partnership Board, which allowed for rapid integration into the local Family Hub networks.

On the operational side, in Hammersmith and Fulham, we agreed on processes to share information in appropriate ways to identify shared cases where different professionals were involved. Excellent case studies of Link Workers and Early Help practitioners working together to align plans around shared cases have emerged in RBKC. Link Workers and Early Help teams have attended each other’s team meetings to aid understanding of services.

This all takes time, and the different contexts in different boroughs mean there isn’t a one size fits all approach to integration. It is never ‘done’ either – it takes deliberate time and energy to make it work on all sides, and there is always more to be done. Constant communication is important, and people and roles change. Working out where and how to ‘fit’ isn’t always straightforward either. For example – it is the role of WLZ to intervene early and ultimately prevent further escalations to Early Help or Social Services. However, the role played by Link Workers in uncovering unmet contextual safeguarding needs can mean further escalations are necessary but very much welcome to address needs – and would otherwise have not have taken place until the situation was much more serious.

So why take the time and energy? Ultimately it comes down to a belief that systems, organisations and ‘help’ should be a joined-up experience for all families. This takes people. There is a need for people, like our Link Workers, to actively join up each family’s experience of an often fragmented system, and for people in organisations to connect, network and share. When early action is needed, a joined-up system is one in which it can be most effectively found.

Help should be a joined-up experience for all families.

Joe Prendiville
Business Development Director at West London Zone

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IN POLICY: The interim findings from The Independent Review of Children's Social Care reveal differences in opinion on whether there should be a separation between organisations delivering ‘family help’ early action support, and those delivering child protection statutory level support. We have seen a definite benefit in relationship building with parents due to our status as a community-based organisation as opposed to being delivered by statutory services. However, the other side of the debate is also one we accept and is important to us. Namely, communication with, and integration in, existing local systems of statutory, local authority and voluntary sector support is a crucial part of delivering to families, and ensuring their experience of services is not fragmented. We need a system that enables deep relationships with families and connects everything up.

IN OUR WORK: One WLZ Link Worker began supporting a young person with a disability who was falling behind academically and had recently suffered losses, including the death of a parent. The Link Worker set up a WLZ two-year programme to support this young person including regular 1:1s, counselling sessions with Place2Be and support from other WLZ delivery partners. The Link Worker focused on forming a close and trusted relationship with the young person and their family, and coordinated communication between the school, the young person’s family, the Place2Be counsellor and an Early Help practitioner, who had been involved with the family previously. The Link Worker shared the young person’s personalised support plan with the practitioner so they could check their approach was not duplicated and focussed appropriately. This also meant the family didn’t need to repeat their story to multiple stakeholders. The Early Help practitioner was able to focus their support around the young person’s family in order to foster a greater independence at home, while the Link Worker and WLZ provided support in school and around secondary transition.

YouTube Video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yFY8OlXDREU

together, every child and young person can flourish.