In this guest blog Helen Worthington, Chief Executive of the Safer Stronger Consortium, goes through the ins and outs of managing a contract delivered jointly by a consortium of partners.
In early 2015, the Safer Stronger Consortium (SSC) was successful – along with some 60-70 other voluntary sector organisations – in becoming a member of the Victim Care Network for Devon and Cornwall. It’s our first experience of our members delivering a contracted service jointly together.
SSC was set up in 2012, when a group of voluntary sector organisations came together to discuss the needs and priorities for vulnerable people caught in the criminal justice cycle in Cornwall. Those organisations – many of whom were already working informally in partnership – shared a vision and set of values that came together to form the consortium’s mission and aims. The group was successful in securing capacity-building funds through the National Offender Management Service, which enabled SSC to be formally constituted as a registered company and charity with a Board of Trustees, positioned to respond to opportunities anticipated from the Transforming Rehabilitation agenda. The probation landscape has since changed (and continues to change) dramatically, but supporting vulnerable people within the system in true partnership remains fundamental to SSC’s existence.
Safer Stronger: a tailored approach
As Chief Executive of the consortium, I am fortunate to witness first-hand the breadth of specialist work that is carried out by our partner organisations, as well as those across the wider network, in helping people at their most vulnerable to overcome difficulties in their lives. As we all know, the ‘revolving door’ of the Criminal Justice System is not confined to those committing offences. Often victims find themselves re-victimised. Often the lives of the offender and victim are also intertwined and both can face very deep-rooted and complex issues that perpetuate cycles of repeat behaviour.
Traditional talking therapies or one-stop-shop solutions are not always the answer. Through SSC’s partnership, individuals can access a range of specialist and unique services around mental health, financial and debt management, housing, family support, young people’s services, learning difficulties, skills development such as confidence-building or communications, or one-to-one mentoring and advocacy. The support could just as easily take place in a conventional therapy setting as a quiet cafeteria or outdoors activity centre! What is most important is ensuring the individual has a say in what support they receive, so that they can return to a place of personal resilience not only to overcome the impact, but also to better cope with challenges in the future.
Commissioning a unique collaborative model
The Victim Care Network was established by the then Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Commissioner in response to the revised Code of Practice for Victims, which brought additional rights and greater flexibility to criminal justice agencies to tailor services according to individual need. The Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner carried out a rigorous Needs Assessment, and then commissioned the Victim Care Network along with a Victim Care Unit which takes referrals from the police. Ambitious in its aims and innovative in its model, this unique collaboration between the police and service providers has since evolved to support thousands of victims of crime across Devon and Cornwall. Services often not only deal with the immediate impact of the crime but also the underlying issues that contribute to the person’s vulnerability or means of coping. The purpose of the network is to provide a victim-led, specialist pathway of support. However, SSC is unique in its position as a network within a network.
Working in partnership
Since engaging in delivery of victim care, SSC has established and developed a responsive and evolving network of partners that work closely together to provide individualised programmes of support. All partners feature on the Victim Care Directory, the online platform offered to victims to explore service options at their own pace. The team at the Victim Care Unit in Exeter works hard to respond to initial referrals received from the police, and refers them on to a service within the network. SSC receives referrals for those with multiple and complex needs, who may struggle to secure the help they need from a single provider. Facilitated centrally through our Victims Coordinator (which is held by one of SSC’s partners, CASS PLUS), we work with each individual to develop a bespoke programme of support tailored to their needs. This may be delivered by one or more organisations both within SSC’s partnership, as well as across the wider network and any statutory services relevant to their situation. That individual has a single point of contact at SSC throughout their programme of support, at the end of which they are invited to provide feedback on the service.
Of course, working in partnership isn’t new – voluntary sector organisations have been doing this for many years, especially at a grass-roots level. However, commissioning partnership work is a relatively recent development from a public sector point of view, and with pioneering comes not only great responsibility but also significant opportunities for learning. The Victim Care model in Devon and Cornwall is an excellent example of bold innovation. The organisations involved have undertaken great learning together, supported through network events hosted by the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner. SSC and its partners support one another through peer learning, consolidated reporting and resources, and pooling expertise and knowledge, all of which is facilitated centrally by SSC.
What have we learned?
Working in partnership is not without its challenges, as one would imagine. As with any delivery, we are constantly looking at ways of improving the service we provide. For example by streamlining our collective approach to administration, updating our governance and quality assurance, or enlisting training to support service development. A partnership cannot function without consistent, strong channels of communication, which SSC delivers through network meetings, development and delivery workshops and newsletters, in addition to the day-to-day contact with colleagues across the partnership. Information is precious, and finding new ways to communicate efficiently and effectively with our colleagues and clients continues to be a work in progress.
With robust governance and supportive infrastructure, regular dialogue, a shared mission and set of values and a collective focus and purpose, delivering in partnership can be a powerful framework to effect positive, long-lasting change in the lives of those who need it most.
Helen is currently on maternity leave. To contact Safer Stronger Consortium contact Paul Reeve at firstname.lastname@example.org