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Podcast: Together for Childhood

Last updated: 11 Mar 2019 Topics: Podcast

Jon Brown talks about our programme to prevent child abuse and neglect

What if child abuse never happened? What if we all knew who to turn to if we're worried?

Together for Childhood is an ambitious ten-year programme that focuses on preventing child abuse. It's an innovative, evidence-informed approach that brings local partners and families together to make communities safer for children.

In this podcast episode we speak to Jon Brown, the NSPCC's Head of Development and Impact about the programme. Jon gives us an overview of Together for Childhood, which is being delivered in four sites: Glasgow, Grimsby, Plymouth and Stoke. He talks about the collaborations and co-developments between voluntary, statutory and community sectors, how the programme is helping develop current and new NSPCC services and how it is being funded, evaluated and rolled out.

We'll be visiting these sites in future episodes to talk in more depth about the work they are doing.

Find out more about the Stoke site in our new episode


About Jon Brown

Jon Brown is Head of Development and Impact at NSPCC. He is a qualified social worker and has been responsible for setting up and managing a range of sexual abuse services ranging from therapeutic services for child victims, services for children and young people with sexually harmful behaviour and services for adult sex offenders.

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Podcast transcript

Welcome to NSPCC Learning, a series of podcasts that cover a range of child protection issues to inform, create debate, and tell you all about the work we do to keep children safe. At the heart of every podcast is the child's voice, and how what they tell us, informs the work we do.

(Raised adult voices)

Male voice: Every single time. It’s the same thing. Why do you do it? Why on earth do you do it? I try and tell you, I try and be calm about it and it doesn’t work! You just don’t listen to me, do you?

Female voice: Stop it! Stop it Tom! Stop!

Male voice: Do you mind?! I’m trying to speak to her. I’m trying to speak to my daughter…

(Music in background)

Child's voice: What if child abuse never happened? What if we all knew who to turn to if we were worried?

What you're listening to is a promotional film for the NSPCC's 'Together for Childhood' initiative. This is an ambitious ten-year program that focuses on preventing child abuse. I'm Ali, and I'm part of the Knowledge and Information Service at the NSPCC and the podcast you're about to listen to is with our Head of Development and Impact, Jon Brown.

Jon talked to me about the Together for Childhood work. As you'll hear, there are four Together for Childhood sites, and in future podcasts, we will be visiting them to find out about the work they're doing. But for now, listen to Jon talk about the Together for Childhood work.

(Audio from Together for Childhood promotional film)

(VO adult and child)

"The NSPCC and partners are launching Together for Childhood. It's an approach that brings a community together to prevent all forms of child abuse. But they can't do it alone. Together with your help, we can all work towards a future without child abuse."

Jon can you explain what Together for Childhood is, what's it about?

Jon Brown:
Well, Together for Childhood is a place-based initiative, so it's working within a distinct geographic area, and in fact four distinct geographic areas across the across the UK, and the whole point of the project is that it’s long-term and is about finding answers to prevention, what works best in preventing child abuse and neglect.

We've learnt a lot over the years in relation to which therapeutic approaches, for example, are most effective, which assessment approaches are most effective, but they are kind of, very much, after the event really, but this is about getting on the front-foot as far as prevention is concerned.

So, explain why this initiative has been created? Why the NSPCC decided to do some it's looking at more preventative approaches.

Well, prevention is absolutely key to our strategy and of course it's there in our name as well isn't it? So, of course key to our strategy is understanding and learning what's most effective and then taking that learning and scaling it to ensure that we can have the biggest impact and the biggest reach in terms of the children and young people and families who are going to benefit from it.

And if we can do that with prevention, then potentially we are having a huge impact on many, many thousands and millions of children and young people. So, it's central to our strategy and there's a lot we still need to learn as a sector and as a society and as a nation, really, about which interventions, and which early interventions, are most effective in preventing child abuse and neglect. So, we've taken a brave step forward to do that at the NSPCC.

We've made a ten-year commitment to do that because these things don't happen quickly. And the other critical thing is that it's about engaging with partners, statutory partners, other voluntary sector partners and of course, critically, local communities and children and young people and families within those communities as well.

That leads me very nicely onto my next question. So, who else is involved? So, we've got the NSPCC, can we talk a little bit more about our external partners, engaging in the local community…

Yeah. So, in a sense the more the better really with Together for Childhood. The broader range of partners you can have the better, that's absolutely crucial. So, whilst we at the NSPCC are an important catalyst, an important kind of starter for this really, and we've come along with important resources and funding to help trigger it, what we want to do, in some ways, is to recede as far as our presence is concerned.

We want to be there as an influence and as a supporter but as the months and the years go by, we want to see community involvement, and community ownership in particular for Together for Childhood in each of the four areas grow.

So, we've set up in each of the four areas a memorandum of understanding with our statutory partners. So, for example, with local authority children's social care, with the police, with the local health service, education and schools, and a whole range of partners and with community groups as well.

So, I think that's that that's really important, that you've got that, if you like, that strategic intent at the beginning from the people who hold the purse strings if you like really, the people who can make the decisions about funding in other organisations as well, that's really important.

We've learnt that from the outset to have those clear agreements in place, to have everyone around the table to have a forum in place whether it's a Together for Childhood Board, and that's the most common feature really across each of the four sites, to ensure that the way forward is agreed and the key leaders in the community, and across all of the key contributing organizations, are agreed on the right way forward.

And that's now where we've got to in Together for Childhood in each of the four areas, we've got those agreements in place, we've got that strategic buy-in, that senior buy-in, from a range of different organisations and then increasingly from the community as well. And as I say, as the years and the months go by, we want to see that community ownership and community involvement and engagement increase, and increase, and increase because fundamentally at the end of the day it's not going to be the NSPCC or local government or the health service that puts an end to child abuse and neglect, it's going to be people in their communities who take control of it and take those actions take those prevention actions.

Exactly. How difficult, or was it difficult, to set up those partnerships? Were people on board from the outset?

It's been a journey certainly and it's been, the level of engagement has kind of waxed and waned at various points as well, but generally speaking, it feels as though we've been pushing at an open door and that the time is right and increasingly people are wanting to think about prevention.

In a way, the difficult environment out there in terms of austerity and cuts is driving that thinking even more about prevention in a way really because if all we're doing and all we're focusing on is dealing with ‘after the event’ consequences of abuse and neglect, then that's just going to get increasingly more and more difficult really with diminishing resources. So, anything that we can do to generate more evidence about intervening earlier to stop problems in their tracks before they become more entrenched or, and of course, stopping abuse and neglect happening before it occurs in the first place, is going to be absolutely critical.

Increasingly, local areas are getting that, they’re understanding that. Increasingly they're seeing the need to collaborate and taking a place-based approach, recognising the idea about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) as well. So that's a big study that comes across from the US, Adverse Childhood Experiences. And it's helped us at the NSPCC and in other organisations, local governments and others, understand and take a better more planned approach really to how to how to take the necessary steps and how to plan services and early intervention services aimed at those ACEs, those Adverse Childhood Experiences.

And then the final thing I think really is to take a trauma-informed approach as well and increasingly recognising that abuse, a lot of abuse and neglect, occurs because of pre-existing trauma as well, and because of that cycle of abuse, and if we can intervene and work with families where they themselves may have experienced trauma, and of course work with children and people where they've experienced trauma, intervene early to deal with that, to recognise that, then interrupting that cycle is really critically important and a really important building block as far as prevention is concerned.

So, this Together for Childhood initiative, is it quite a new thing? Is it quite innovative? Are we aware of any other initiatives like it in the country?

No, there's nothing else like this as far as safeguarding and child protection is concerned. There are a variety of place-based approaches out there. Community action is increasing at the moment and that's to be welcomed in a range of different forums really. But as far as child abuse and neglect is concerned, taking a place-based preventative approach, that is very new and partly the reason it's very new is it's quite difficult to do.

And the emphasis has been on mopping up the difficulties and really dealing with the aftermath and the legacy of child abuse and neglect, so for that reason it's been a long time coming but we've taken that brave step. It also involves a long-term investment and long-term planning and thinking and I think that we've been able to do that and then encourage others to come on board as it has been been really important.

But we are blazing a trail and at the end of the day, what we want to see, ideally, at the end of this ten-year phase of work in each of the four areas, and hopefully before that, is to have a really good evidence informed approach to prevention so we can then put that together in a framework if you like, a set of guidance, that we can then take out to other areas and then spread that prevention message right across the country and then hopefully further afield as well, so we can show in a really practical way what it looks like with organisations, voluntary organisations, statutory organisations, communities, families, coming together and coordinating together all of their efforts and their positive energies towards prevention and the real difference that can make and that's what we hope and expect that we will have by the time we've got to the end of this this exciting journey with Together for Childhood.

So, the four sites are Stoke, Plymouth, Govan and Grimsby. Any particular reason why those four sites were chosen? Were they already doing work of a similar nature?

We did an assessment of each of the four the four cities and, first of all we had a service presence there at the NSPCC, so in a sense we had those relationships already. But in addition to that there was already thinking in each of those four areas about prevention, about taking a place based approach. And each of those four areas are not without their problems as well. If you look at indices of deprivation and levels of kind of abuse and neglect, you know, there are…you know they're not necessarily the worst places in terms of all the figures right across the country but there are some real challenges there, particularly within the specific areas that have been selected in each.

So, in as you say in Grimsby it's the East and West Marsh area of Grimsby, areas of very high deprivation very high need but also very high community activism and hope as well really in terms of wanting to do something about it.

Secondly in Glasgow it’s the Govan area in Glasgow. Again, lots of community initiatives there, lots of community action, community activity, but again, relatively high levels of need and deprivation as well. So relatively kind of fertile ground really for us to work with local agencies and the local community. And of course having our service centre presence is actually absolutely critical as well.

And then in Stoke on Trent, Fegg Hayes and Chell Heath are two areas there in Stoke on Trent where again we’ve got a service presence. And again, there's been pre-existing thinking about the need to take more preventative action.

And then similarly in Plymouth, in Ernesettle, which is an area in Plymouth, again Plymouth City Council are very committed to taking over the kind of trauma-informed approach, to testing place-based approaches to prevention as well.

And it's in Plymouth and Stoke on Trent where we're testing approaches to preventing sexual abuse, and it's in Glasgow and Grimsby where we're testing approaches to preventing abuse in families where there are a range of adversities, in particular that trio if you like of substance alcohol misuse mental ill health and domestic abuse.

And have the communities been welcoming of this initiative? I'm sure some have been more on-board than others but is there a threat by the NSPCC because maybe they feel that the NSPCC is taking over with certain initiatives or was has it been welcomed?

Well that's the key. I think the key thing is to ensure that we are coming in as a facilitator and as a supporter and building on, and supporting, existing energy and we're not coming in there to take over. I think in some of those areas, and certainly the local community in East and West Marsh in Grimsby, there was some wariness and some view that, we've had a lot of interventions here, we've had a lot of initiatives, is this just yet another one? But we've been able to turn that around in East and West Marsh and they can see that this is about, in a sense, the NSPCC giving away power, devolving power to the local community and to local grassroots organisations.

And that's the key thing really. It's not us coming in as though we know it all, because we don't, we want to learn with the community about what works most effectively with prevention and that collaborative approach really is key. So yes, there's been some wariness but I think we're increasingly finding ways to work with that and ensure that we can convince communities that that it's very much about enabling and empowering them to find the funding solutions.

And we're also seeing some positive messaging as well as far as additional funding is concerned as well. We've just recently had some really good news about funding in Plymouth and also funding for Grimsby as well really. So that's over half a million pounds of funding coming in to those two areas which I think sends an important message that other external funders get this, they understand the importance of taking a place-based approach and they're prepared to support it as well. So, it feels as though the momentum is now beginning to build as well.

Absolutely. I'm going to ask you about funding so NSPCC initially funded it and it's for the four bases to look for external funding? Is that how it's working?

That's how we'll grow it, absolutely, yeah. So we've provided the startup funding for it if you like but the intention always has been to secure either in-kind funding through secondments from the local authority, children’s social care or health or education or whoever it might be, and real cash funding as well, either from some of some of those partners, although we recognise the extreme, you know, kind of difficulties with their experience in terms of savings they have to make themselves, but sometimes it is about reorienting existing funding towards prevention.

But also drawing in grant funding as well, whether that's from the Lottery Community Fund or whether it's from a range of other community focused national funding initiatives that are recognising the importance of taking a place based approach. Increasingly that's what we're wanting to see, our funding augmented and supplemented and added to, and then ultimately being taken over from, because you know we don't, as an organisation, we want to be in there, assist with providing the evidence, but then leave a legacy and that kind of energy of prevention there, in the long term that can then be taken on board by local communities and you know with funding hopefully for example from local businesses and others as well to ensure that there is an overall recognition within those local areas about everyone's got a part to play in preventing child abuse and neglect.

What we're going to be doing over the next few months Jon is actually go to the sites themselves and talk to them very specifically about their projects, their collaboration, the impacts, but could you give an overview about some of things that might have been going on, some of the initiative that's being run, some of the impacts that we're seeing already. Just very briefly?

So, some of the things we're seeing already is, we've been getting the architecture, the infrastructure, in place as I've said, in terms of those partnership boards and memorandum of understanding, all of those things that are, you know, important really, to have senior leaders sign up to these things and local community groups understand and agree the principles of the partnership working as well.

But we're also seeing our services changing as well. So we've traditionally we've had a service presence there in Glasgow and Grimsby, in Stoke and Plymouth, but it’s about reorienting that service focus as well from what's called, what's typically called, tertiary prevention, so ‘after the event’ work really with children and young people and families and pushing that further upstream to take a much more preventative approach using things like some of our existing services that we've got so, ‘Speak out, stay safe’, our PANTS work, and then some new services as well.

So, for example, Circles of Security is a really interesting group work program that's been developed in Glasgow to help parents interact and engage better with their children. And that's just one example. So as Together for Childhood develops, new primary prevention services will complement some of the existing services we've got, and the existing initiatives we've got like our PANTS work, and our School Service work, and some of the earlier intervention services that we're developing within the Development Team at the moment.

But what's critically important is that those new services are also co-developed and co-designed with other local players the local community as well. So, we're about just over 18 months now since Together for Childhood was launched in each of the four areas. So, it's still relatively early days as far as those new services are concerned but we're beginning to see already some green shoots coming up really in terms of the refocusing of some of our traditional services to, as I say, taking a much more early intervention/prevention approach.

The money that we've got in Plymouth from the Samworth Foundation is focusing for example on peer to peer work where there are problems between young people behaving in a sexually aggressive or sexually inappropriate way with other young people and that Samworth Foundation money is about having a focus on respect. So, it's a kind of group-based work with those young people and using champions within those young people to help them understand the importance of respectful communications, respectful relationships, and already we're seeing that the best way to do that is through using other young people and working with other young people themselves as champions to help facilitate that. So that's another example of an earlier intervention initiative that we're launching there in Plymouth to help with that whole issue of peer on peer abuse.

It's going for ten years. It's been…we’re about 18 months in, could we talk a little bit about the evaluation of this and how that's kind of broken down because obviously ten years feels like a long way. How do you how do you plan for that kind of evaluation?

So, we've started off with an implementation evaluation, so that's really important that we work out what's worked and what's been most effective in setting up Together for Childhood. So, we've already, that's going to be published very shortly.

We've got the initial findings from the implementation evaluation that's been undertaken by our Evidence Team here at the NSPCC and already we've had some really interesting learning from that about not running before you can walk, about notwithstanding some of the expectations and pressures about getting services up and running as soon as possible, the importance of getting that infrastructure in place, about getting those partnerships established and not rushing that, because they can take a while and getting that trust, that community trust, in places is absolutely critical.

Carefully planning your range of services, carefully planning your you know things like your projects initiation documents and those sorts of things to make sure that they are genuinely, collaboratively produced as well. So, there is that feeling from the outset that this is a collaborative venture and not something just being led by the NSPCC. So that that implementation evaluation is now being completed and it's going to be published soon.

But the other, the next critical phase of evaluation of course is what actual difference is Together for Childhood going to make? What are the improved outcomes, or what are the anticipated improved outcomes, for children and young people and families and communities within those areas? And that's now going to be the next focus.

There's some baseline evaluation work that's being done in each of the four areas at the moment, to get a relatively early take on public attitudes within those areas in relation to child abuse and neglect and beliefs in how it can, or maybe can't, be prevented. So that's really important to get that baseline information and then of course five, eight years down the line we can reflect back on that baseline information, run that again, and look at the extent to which those attitudes have changed or not. And some really interesting learning from other parts of the world, from North America and elsewhere, where that similar work has been done, so we're not having to wholly invent stuff from scratch. We can take learning from evaluation of those kinds of community initiatives and those public baseline of attitudes from it from elsewhere. So that's really important. So that's all being led by our Evidence Team at the NSPCC.

But the other critical partnership that I've not mentioned that's really important in each of the four areas is the academic partnerships as well, with the universities. And we're really keen to, and we are, engaging with those local colleges and universities to ensure that they're involved and engaged with the collation of evidence and the evaluation of Together for Childhood as well. So, there's a local input into it. And of course it gives us more evaluation resource as well. So, we're where we're currently involved in those discussions with, as I say, local colleges and universities to assist us in that.

But ultimately that's what we want to aim for, a measurement of outcomes, so we've gone right through, we know what works best in terms of setting up a project like this, which interventions are most effective and then critically right at the end, what are the effects that those interventions and what effect have they had on values and attitudes of children young people and families and communities and overall hopefully the incidents the overall incidence of child abuse neglect within a particular area as well.

What do you see the future for Together for Childhood is?

Yeah. We hope to see Together for Childhood certainly grow and extend within those areas. At the moment, we're focusing on very distinct geographic areas within Glasgow and Grimsby and Stoke and Plymouth, very distinct geographic areas, but over the fullness of time we hope and expect those areas to grow through increased support and increased funding as well.

But also, what we want to, one sort of product if you like, that we’re aiming to have is, if you like, a sort of Together for Childhood model really, framework that we can take and say to other areas, look, this is what has worked in, for example, in Glasgow, these are the key features, the key principles, that have worked, and these are the outcomes that have been achieved from this work.

And then another area that are interested in taking a similar place-based approach can use those principles, use that learning, and then adapt it and amend it to their own local circumstances and situations. So, ultimately, hopefully, over the next couple of decades we might see a whole network of sort of flourishing prevention initiatives right across the country. And that would be our ultimate goal if you like, if you like really.

Fantastic. It sounds a brilliant initiative. Very bold and it’ll be interesting to come back maybe over different times to just have a bit of a chat see how things are going. Thank you very much Jon.

Of course. Thank you.


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