This paper will discuss the underlying reasons for the development of partnership working in local communities. It will give examples of policies in place to strengthen relationships between the various agencies involved with young people and will give the rationale for co-operation and communication between them.
‘Youth’ is often used to describe the transition from childhood to adulthood and young people have been associated with social problems for centuries. (Hill. 2000) The sociological, economic and cultural aspects of youth have changed significantly over recent years. Hill (2000) states that this has occurred as a result of demographic changes and changes in the social environment, individual and collective behaviour, family relationships and the labour market.
There have been many policies targeted at young people over the last 20 years, however these have been mainly focussed on one area of development, for example, crime prevention. (Alcock, Erskine, May. 2002). To fully appreciate the underlying reasons for the development of partnership and the emphasis placed on its importance relating to young people, it is useful to examine the policies that have been implemented and the services that have been, or are available to young people.
In the early 1990’s it became apparent that certain areas of social policy were failing young people and there was a shift in attitude as how to deal with these problems. Approaches to young offenders, for example, changed from custodial prison sentences to the realization that prisons are an expensive way to attempt rehabilitation and often make criminal behaviour worse, and the emphasis went back to the reintroduction of severe regimes through ‘boot camps’. (Hill 2000) Health promotion interventions sought to change the behaviour of young people by showing frightening images of wizened drug addicts on street corners. Both these tactics, it would appear, failed to match the reality experienced by young people and may have proved to be expensively ineffective.
Policies changed again in the 1990’s towards involving Local Government and the partnership approach, maximising community involvement in regeneration and private sector became a prerequisite for almost all regeneration projects (Foley. 2000).
Since ‘New Labour’ came to government in 1997, there has been a huge emphasis on collaboration between agencies and better co ordination within local government services to enable every young person to reach their
potential. The prominence of multi agency work has been at the forefront of recent government initiatives with respect to young people. Marlow and Pitts (1998) describe multi agency relations as…
“the coming together of various agencies, in relation to a given problem, without this significantly affecting or transforming the work they do. The same tasks are conducted in co – operation with others” (1998, pg 117)
One of the most recent government policies that stress the importance of alliance between agencies is the White paper ‘Every Child Matters’ (2003). This document was published after a public investigation into the death of Victoria Climbie, a victim of severe child abuse who was failed by the many agencies involved in her life. There was a clear concern that the absence of partnership between social services, education and the health service played a huge part in the failure protect vulnerable children within the state.
A significant part within the White paper focuses entirely on ‘early intervention’ which aims to improve information sharing between agencies and to create multi – disciplinary teams dedicated to the area of young people and to bring together all local agencies. Another section is dedicated to accountability, as it seems this was an area that appeared ill-defined and needed targeting and reforming. When agencies work individually, there is always a danger that individuals assume other professionals involved are aware of their policies and involvement. This, it seems is not always the case. The White paper stresses the need for a common assessment framework and a National database where all service involvement with individuals is documented and can be accessed by all the relevant professionals involved.
On a broader scope there is a European White Paper on Youth (2001) which aims to ..
“enhance Community co-operation for and with young people, by seeing people as a specific and indispensable element in a resolutely future-oriented policy”.
Within its policy there is immense stress on partnership and community involvement, with emphasis on deepening the Community co-operation to the benefit of and with the involvement of young people. The European Commission believed that the European Union needed to pay more attention to young people and decided to ask the youth of Europe what they thought. The EU Commission hosted three European youth conferences and asked the 15 Member States to hold further youth consultations in their own countries. This was seen as a major step forward because it actually engaged with young people and considering their thoughts and wishes relating to policies that would affect them. This is a promising notion as young people are still viewed as vulnerable and an influential sector of the population.(Munchi, Wetherell, Langan, Dallos, Cochrane, 2000)
Consultation with young people may provide empowerment and give them a sense of belonging within the community. Participation in decision making and enabling young people to make positive contributions to community life and engagement in local services gives a boost to self esteem. Matthews (2001) states
“Participation involves much more than consultation; it assumes an ability to influence and change. It provides children with the opportunity to think for themselves, to express their views and to expect that these ideas will be listened to and taken seriously. It entails working effectively with others, and interacting in a positive way. Above all it is an inclusive process that encourages the activive engagement of all involved, regardless of background or identity.”
The notion of working in partnership within local communities is not new. There have been programmes focussed in this area for many years. The Community Development Foundation (1969) is an organisation that assists public services and community groups to develop partnerships and initiatives in local areas. The ethos of this programme is to .
“develop a range of practices dedicated to increasing the strengths and effectiveness of community life and improving local conditions.”
The Community Development Foundation (CDF) aims to target people in disadvantaged situations and enable them to be more involved within their local community and achieve greater long term control over their circumstances. Their policy states the importance of partnership between public services, local government and community groups. They also place much emphasis on ‘best practice’, sharing and developing knowledge and practices that have been successful within other projects.
A major strand in CDF’s work is the evaluation of local community projects, programmes and initiatives. One programme that has been researched and evaluated by CDF is the Neighbourhood Support Fund. (1999). This is a government funded scheme targeted at young people living on the poorest estates in 40 deprived Local Authority areas who are disengaged from or at risk of dropping out of education, training or employment. The programme is also overlooked by The Learning Alliance and the National Youth Agency. (Connexions, 2004) This is a great example of partnership on a higher level, where national agencies collaborate and are able to assist newer initiatives to succeed within communities.
In 1969 Sherry Arnstein proposed a ‘ladder of participation’ (Appendix 1) categorizing different degrees of involvement and delegation of decision-making power. This was originally designed for use in urban America although many aspects of Arnstein ‘ladder’ are still used by professionals working within communities to use citizen participation methods based on motive and effectiveness. The least effective levels include manipulation and therapy where it is assumed that a decision has public support simply by the lack of opposition.
At these levels, no real effort is made to inform the public objectively. The second tier involves forms of tokenism such as informing and consultation where more of an effort is made to engage with the public regarding future actions, but the underlying power lies within the professional to make the decisions. Finally there are the most effective levels of representation, which include partnership, delegated power, and citizen control. At these levels, there is exchange of power through negotiation and consensus building. This method of consultation stresses that people are most likely to be committed to carry something through if they have had a stake in the idea.
More recently a scheme dedicated to building safer communities targeted at young people is “Communities that Care” (1997). This model is supported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and places great emphasis on promoting partnerships between local and national agencies to develop services within communities to assist young people reach their potential. This project raises awareness of partnership and state
“success for a holistic strategy of this kind can only be achieved through a high level of co-operation and teamwork between different organizations and agencies.” (Communities that Care, 1997).
In reality the notion of partnership, working within local communities may not always be successful. It can be open to criticism and may pose threats and weaknesses which need addressing. Such issues as work based ethics, power bases, priorities, and different professional and even personal agendas may threaten the achievement of services within an area. Confidentiality and data protection is one of the main concerns where a break down in communication can occur. Agencies that make their own agenda a priority can undermine any effective partnership and to overcome this issue it is important to create a level of practice and guidelines which suits all involved.
Understanding participation involves understanding power, the ability of the different interests to achieve what they want. Power will depend on who has information and money. It will also depend on people’s confidence and skills. Many organizations are unwilling to allow people to participate because they fear loss of control. However, there are many situations when working together allows everyone to achieve more than they could on their own. This was highlighted by a study commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in 2002 which noted that many local council members felt that their democratic role was being downgraded by the growing number of partnership policies introduced by central government even though community partnership development issues ranked high up in local council agendas. (Wilkinson, Craig. 2002)
Multi-agency work can only ever be as effective as the individuals involved and how knowledgeable they are in the area they work in. Efficient communication and clear accountability is at the forefront of successful multi-agency work. It is important to take into account that any systematic approach can only work if all agencies, organizations and voluntary/residents groups involved have the material and resources necessary to implement any strategy deemed necessary to the success of a community.
Putting ideas into practice depends on people’s confidence and skills. Many participation processes involve breaking new ground. It is unrealistic to expect individuals or small groups suddenly to develop the capability to make complex decisions and become involved in major projects. They need training or the opportunity to learn formally and informally and to develop confidence. There is also the notion that participation encourages ‘ownership’ and more often than not, partnerships can give the impression that they are involving local people when in fact they are only informing and in effect just providing ‘lip service’. Therefore there needs to be clear definitions between informing, consulting and participating.
There are also other concerns when developing partnerships and new initiatives. Economic implications for communities, when developing new initiatives can affect its long-term sustainability. The amount and length of funding allocated by the government or private sector to assist in the implementation of programmes will always be a concern. The government’s agenda for local authorities to mainstream new initiatives offers the initial funding.
This funding has become increasingly important and allows the different agencies and departments to work together and pool resources. (Marlow, Pitts. 1998). The danger of short term funding would in turn restrict long-term developments, and although the initial funding is to establish new projects and assist the development of a community, it is imperative for agencies and organizations to work together to apply for or be granted extra funding to ensure the work continues. Without long term funding many projects will not be sustainable and will only benefit people for a short period of time. Another prerequisite for sustainability for community involvement is that of ‘capacity building’ – giving communities the skills to continue the work after the funding ends.
There is the danger that new policies are continually emerging and being prioritized. An article in ‘Community Work’ (2003) reiterates this threat and states that initial policies
” are not followed up with a specific position in action plans, budgets and evaluation.” (Taylor,Vol 231)
It also needs to be acknowledged that partnerships can have a life span and need to mature and develop as priorities and circumstances of communities can change over time.
As the policies seen within this paper stress, the importance of effective partnership work, multi or inter – agency is echoed throughout every policy, project and new initiative established to benefit communities. The need for local and national services, private and voluntary groups to work together, is apparent in every community – based development programme.
In conclusion, this essay has highlighted the need for a common approach to protect young people, help develop their potential and sense of belonging within the community. Whilst the notion is, in principle, noble and clear, the translation to reality is rather more difficult and relies on inter – agency trust, accountability and professional willingness to communicate and work together.