Thursday, 24 October 2013

Presenting 'Whatever It Takes', a major step forward for our children's zone.

First and foremost, I'd like to thank everyone who contributed and came along to the launch of 'Whatever It Takes', a report commissioned by The Winch with support from Camden Council to explore the capacity for partnership working as part of a children's zone approach in North Camden.

I realise we've made something of a song and dance about this report. I'm also mindful that partnership working-including in its most powerful and transformational form-has been about for far longer than we have. I've been reminded that we're not the first organisation to articulate a vision for partnership working, nor for tackling child poverty. These are important points.

The reason that we believe this report adds something valuable to this agenda and that The Promise Partnership is an exciting development is quite simple. We believe that a children's zone that is community-led, developed alongside local families and young people and in partnership with the local authority and other partners, hasn't been done before in this way. The evidence from piloting this approach since December 2011 and more intensively since November 2012, with the appointment of our first Promise Workers, gives us great cause for optimism. However, we share it in order that it stimulates debate and catalyses action: it is simply another step.

There is a great deal of excellent policy thinking, research and conceptualising around children's zones: we want to learn from that, reflect on it and road-test different approaches on the ground, in the real world. This report is born of those real-world experiences, whether from the perspective of a teenager, a mother, a GP or any number of others. I hope you'll enjoy it.

A few words introducing 'Whatever It Takes' at our event on Monday 21st October:
"The launch of The Promise Academy at The Winch was driven by a very simple question. Can we do more? Are there approaches or organisations or systems that are doing better to beat poverty and its effects? We’d had a couple of heartbreaks-as I’m sure many of you have-and we were searching for answers. We struggled and searched and asked lots of questions. So we made a promise to children in our community to support them from cradle to career, and do whatever we could to enable them to flourish. That’s the promise that has led us to this point and the production of 'Whatever It Takes'.

In developing our children’s zone approach, we started with where the families we work with currently live: primarily in Kilburn, Swiss Cottage, Belsize and snippets of other wards. We formalised more of our partnership working in particular with schools and our experience and observation so far suggests there is good reason to look at broadening the approach.

Working on the ground, we started to better understand two key things. The first was the centrality of the relationships we held. With children and young people, of course. But also our relationships with parents and grandparents, with cousins and friends. Not only that, but we held relationships with doctors. And social workers. And teachers. We were even friends with some lawyers.

Indeed, we’ve been particularly struck by an ongoing conversation facilitated by the Social Research Unit and the Lankelly Chase Foundation focusing on young people experiencing multiple or severe disadvantage. What creates those ‘therapeutic relationships’ or ‘working alliances’ that make a difference? How do we capture, understand and foster them? Perhaps relationships are in fact platforms we invest in to co-produce outcomes with young people, rather than an often glossed-over part of the process?

The second thing we realised was that, in the simplest form, it takes a village to raise a child. This is the core assumption of a children’s zone: that we need to think about the context and culture in which a child is growing up. How does she relate to her neighbours? How does he relate to the local shops? How does she observe the environment and members of the public?

It is best articulated in Save the Children’s summer report on children’s zones, citing the work of Bronfenbrenner on ‘ecological systems theory’. In short, how does a child interact not with one service or system, but a series of complex and interrelated systems which shape opportunities and outcomes? How do these systems interact to threaten or protect children? And how can we intervene meaningfully in them?

The question we have asked-of ourselves, of families and young people, of partners-is how do we bring together these themes of on the one hand the relationships we hold, and on the other the systems which engage with the ecology around the child? What are the challenges? What are the opportunities? And how should we go about moving forward? There is no shortage of committees, strategies and taskforces focused on tackling this issue: what might make this different?

The work we've been doing at The Winch: piloting the Promise Worker role since last year, developing thinking around research and technology, building broader impact measurement processes and now the publication of 'Whatever It Takes', adds to a growing body of evidence-based praxis which we hope you will join us in developing, critiquing, improving and ultimately making meaningful for children and young people in our community."
The report above includes both our summary reflections on 'Whatever It Takes' as well as the report itself. You can download a copy here. If you don't want the combined document, you can download the summary reflections here or the 'Whatever It Takes' report here. To get involved in The Promise Partnership, start off by answering a few questions.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Awards, rewards, onwards.

Although I am loathe to admit it, we are once again hurtling towards the end of another year. If 2011 was a year of change, and 2012 was a year of construction, 2013 has been a year of emergence. It's been a year when the work we put into developing The Promise Academy has started to take shape, to have an impact-and to gain recognition.

We recently headed off, as we do each September, for a full team day in Shoreham at a wonderful place called The Quadrangle Trust. Such occasions are a rare but vital opportunity to plan for the time ahead but also to take stock of what has been accomplished over the previous twelve months. It's easy to forget how far we've traveled at The Winch, in two short years.

And so this post functions primarily as an update of our progress in building the UK's first children's zone-at a time when other organisations are starting to take an increasingly active interest in what this might look like in their own locality. Our vision of supporting children from cradle to career has come on leaps and bounds, with the image below giving a snapshot of our status.

Some work has been about bridging different segments, whereas much has been about developing new elements and building our research and tech infrastructure.

We have been able to secure resource to launch or explore a number of areas this year, but at the forefront of our model lies the Promise Worker Pilot. The Promise Worker role is our best learning about what does and doesn't work in child and adolescent development, partnership working, impact measurement and traditional play and youth work rolled into one.

We appointed Zenobia Talati as Lead on the Promise Worker Pilot, with Andre Kpodonu focusing on 18 to 25s, at the end of last year-and the approach has garnered interest from all sorts of quarters. Over the next few months, the Promise Worker role will be the approach adopted by an increasing number of our frontline staff, expanding to include 4 to 11s and families. The pilot has been cited as an example of best practice in Camden and won national recognition, being shortlisted in the awards category for  'Children & Young People's Charity of The Year' by CYP Now. This is for 'a combination of innovative practice, effective partnership working or campaigning for change' that has made a contribution to 'improving the life chances of children, young people or families'.

Fatuma Osman and Gian Farci picked up awards for their Gap Scheme, with Ace United winning their 2012/13 league. How will we fare at the Children & Young People Now Awards?

I am rarely, if ever, able to complete a blog without a rallying cry-and I am afraid that this one will be no different. It is both exciting and gratifying to see how a children's zone is emerging in North Camden, to see how it is connecting and impacting more effectively on the lives of children and young people-and of course when it is recognised elsewhere. Yet it still feels very much like a work in progress, the beginning of the journey. The next twelve months will see us focus more intensively on impact measurement across the cradle to career spectrum and invest in developing early years services. We are excited about our imminent launch of the Promise Partnership Report, and working with organisations across and beyond Camden to make the zone a reality.

In this endeavour, I hope you can support us: through encouragement, through funding, through learning and introductions and support. Perhaps the most important insight we took away from Harlem was that here in London we have a latent civic infrastructure that can deliver better outcomes and improve life chances for our children. However, it will take time, resource, patience, determination and a commitment that takes precedent over individual agendas and aims. Please join us in making it happen.