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Podcast: Together for Childhood — what we've learnt to help prevent abuse and neglect

Last updated: 24 Oct 2022 Topics: Podcast

How collaboration and knowledge-sharing within local communities can help prevent child abuse and neglect

Together for Childhood (TfC), the NSPCC's place-based approach to prevent child abuse and neglect, was launched almost five years ago. To mark the occasion, we recorded an episode with the development managers for all four TfC sites in Stoke, Plymouth, Grimsby and Govan.

Assistant Director for Together for Childhood, Pat Branigan, chaired the discussion which draws on practice examples of how the TfC has made a difference for local communities. Listen to learn about:

  • the benefits of a place-based and community-focused approach to preventing child abuse and neglect
  • the practice-based learning gained from collaborations between the TfC sites and other professionals within the community
  • what good relationships look like, and how knowledge-sharing and strengths-based approaches have helped TfC sites to build these relationships
  • how Together for Childhood has identified and is supporting existing prevention measures within local areas.
  • why understanding and supporting the priorities of local partners is an important aspect of community-based work.

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About the speakers

Pat Branigan is the Assistant Director for Together for Childhood at the NSPCC. In addition to this, he’s an anthropologist with a background in public health and has led research into sensitive sexual health topics at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

Shelley Shaw is the Development Manager for Together for Childhood Plymouth and has worked in the team since early 2018. Shelley has a background is community development and commissioning. Shelley uses these skills in her current role to review evidence including lived experience and works with a range of partners to develop ideas and activities that can prevent child sexual abuse. Shelley has a particular interest in trauma informed practice and is a volunteer Director of the Trauma Informed Plymouth Network.

Bernie Taylor has been involved in Together for Childhood for five years, initially as a research and evaluation officer and subsequently Development Manager for Together for Childhood Grimsby. Her background is in Occupational Psychology, with a particular interest in human factors and risk reduction. Bernie’s current role involves triangulating a range of insight, data and evidence to develop a programme of activities that enables the local system to better support families to thrive.

Jennie Hammond is a Development Manager for the NSPCC and leads on the development and implementation of the Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Plan through the Together for Childhood programme in Stoke-on-Trent. Jennie has 25 years’ experience in the operational and strategic delivery of services, including substance misuse and early help. During her career, Jennie has developed several new services and has managed small and large teams in a variety of statutory and voluntary sector organisations. 

Di Porter is a Development Manager for the NSPCC at Together for Childhood Govan in Glasgow. Di worked as a social worker in statutory services for several years and has an interest in pre-birth, early years, child protection and prevention and domestic abuse. Di has used her experience to consider how best to support children, young people and families who face challenges and is particularly interested in reducing the barriers services have that make it difficult for families to get the support they need. Di works alongside partner agencies and the community of Govan ensuring the voice and rights of children are integral when considering any development opportunities.

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Related resources

> Find out more about the Together for Childhood programme

> Read our report evaluating how Together for Childhood is bringing about change for local communities

> Learn more about child abuse and neglect

> View our other resources for voluntary and community groups


Podcast transcription

Welcome to the NSPCC Learning podcast, where we share learning and expertise in child protection from inside and outside of the organisation. We aim to create debate, encourage reflection and share good practice on how we can all work together to keep babies, children and young people safe.

George Linfield (Host):
Hello, and welcome to the NSPCC Learning Podcast. This episode focuses on Together for Childhood, an innovative NSPCC programme that aims to prevent child abuse and neglect by working collaboratively with local communities.

It’s now almost five years since the NSPCC launched Together for Childhood. To mark the occasion, we sat down with the development managers for all four Together for Childhood sites – Stoke, Plymouth, Grimsby and Govan – to find out more about what they’ve learnt from running the programme.

The discussion, recorded in October 2022, was hosted by Pat Branigan, the NSPCC’s Assistant Director for Together for Childhood. It covered topics including how the four locations have built collaboration and trust within their communities; what these community collaborations look like and what has been learnt from them; and the importance of knowledge-sharing and strengths-based working within a collaborative programme such as Together for Childhood. The discussion also references Sharing the Brain Story, a simple method for sharing information around child brain development and trauma that can be used by professionals, parents and carers.

If you want to find out more about the Together for Childhood programme, visit the NSPCC Learning website. You can also find further reading and resources in this episode’s show notes.

Pat Branigan:
Hi, I'm Pat Branigan, and I'm Assistant Director for Together for Childhood, and I'm sitting here today with the Development Managers for the Together for Childhood sites.

Shelley Shaw:
Hi, I'm Shelley Shaw, I'm the Development Manager for Together for Childhood Plymouth.

Bernie Taylor:
My name's Bernie Taylor, I'm Development Manager for Together for Childhood Grimsby.

Di Porter:
Hi, I'm Di Porter, the Development Manager for Together for Childhood in Govan, Glasgow.

Jennie Hammond:
Hi, I'm Jennie Hammond, Development Manager for Together for Childhood Stoke.

It's really important today that we think about what's happened in the four and a half years now that Together for Childhood has been running. One major aim was to establish really good working relationships and partnerships with other organisations. It's absolutely key that this place-based approach is embedded in those good relationships and partnership building. And part of that is building those links with agencies and key members of those communities so that the projects could be co-created and co-developed. And that is the essence and the lifeblood of this Together for Childhood work.

And what I want to talk to the development managers about is how have the four sites worked to build these relationships over the last few years? And what does good relationships... What do they look like? What's a good sign of how these things are built? So just thinking about what's happened over the last four, four and a half years in the communities that we've been working with in Together for Childhood: how have the four sites worked to build these relationships? And I'm just thinking... Starting off thinking about those relationships in Stoke, Jennie.

Yeah, thanks Pat. I think for us in Stoke it's been really important to understand the priorities of the different partners – so whether that be the statutory agencies, the voluntary and community sector, our schools – and to try and align the work that we're doing in the NSPCC and Together for Childhood with those priorities.  I'll just give you a particular example. When COVID hit us in 2020, obviously, particularly the voluntary community sector groups, they had the priorities around food and around IT equipment, particularly for the schools. So we jumped on that really and helped to support them as an organisation.

So we worked with one of our corporate sponsors, JCB, to provide some home-cooked meals to over 5,000 residents in the community. And that again was their priority at that point. We also applied for some money through Staffordshire Commissioner's Office for some IT equipment for the schools, because again, because of the deprivation within our Together for Childhood area, a lot of the children were off school because of COVID, but most importantly, weren't able to join in with the [Microsoft] Teams classes because they hadn't got the IT equipment and certainly they hadn't got the means, the data to support that.

So again, we worked with those priorities and that was around building those relationships and responded to the priorities of the community at that time. I suppose for us as well, it's about being aware of the sensitivities within the community, whether that be around interactions between the voluntary and community sector groups. A lot of them have got a lot of different histories. So it's about understanding that and ensuring that our work links appropriately with that.

I suppose other things that we've done as well is be visible in the community. I always say to the whole team about seeing the merit in attending community groups. So I will always say "don't feel that you're wasting your time" in terms of sitting and having a coffee at a mums and toddlers group for example, because that's all about being visible and building those relationships with the community.

And that's really interesting. So you're describing a period of time during national lockdown, aren't you. Two years, you know, two years of disruption from 2020 and still the importance of being visible, of letting people know that you're there, being relevant. And also, I think that really important point about being mindful of what's already there in the partnerships as well. So not stepping on people's toes. Does that chime with others, the other sites. So, Bernie, just thinking about your experiences in Grimsby?

Yeah, absolutely. And I think what it really, really highlights is the importance of place-based working, real genuine place-based working. Because we wouldn't be able to do those things unless we were on the ground and actually building relationships with people, talking to people face-to-face. And Jennie, you were saying about understanding the historical context and the relationships between different organisations. We've had, you know, very much the same thing in Grimsby where we've got loads of really great community groups, really great individuals within the community.

But we're a very small town and conflict happens. There's competition for resources all of the time. You get, you know, you get that occasional rub. Part of what we've been doing as Together for Childhood is navigating that, understanding that, building relationships without taking any sides, keeping that independent eye on it, and actually helping that reparation of some of that conflict. The only way we've been able to do that in Grimsby and in the other sites actually is through the way that we build relationships.

So it's not just about how we've done it practically, but it's the approach that we've taken on a personal level. When you're working in a place-based way, you are a community member. All of our team in Grimsby are the community members that we're talking about. So we're working alongside the people we live alongside, and we can't just bring that professional voice into it. We have to recognise that our local community have expertise in that area as well, and we have an equal responsibility to build those relationships.

So I think everything that you said, Jennie, that's how we do that. We were mindful about any biases that we bring, any power that we bring – just because we're the NSPCC, so we can create a power dynamic without even realising. It's about being reflective about that all the time, being humble and recognising that we don't know it all. There's always going to be more that we don't know than we do.

In order for us to be humble, we need to connect and value others with different pieces of a puzzle. And I think that really helps to build that trust, and it really helps people to recognise that we're not trying to do things to people. We really want to just be alongside and help.

That's really interesting, Bernie. And again, often, having spoken to you all, often it's explaining how these relationships work internally. For us at the NSPCC, it's just as difficult, isn't it, because... Exactly that point about what the expectations are about what what our offer is, what we're trying to do alongside these communities, how we're trying to build trust so that they understand where we can add value to to the work around preventing abuse.

Just thinking about the work in Plymouth, Shelley. There's a lot of partnerships that that you've built down there, a lot of relationships. Over the last four years, can you talk us through how they've developed.

I think for me, at a community level, we have gone in alongside our community and been really honest about our subject, which is the prevention of child sexual abuse. But at the same time, we've really listened to what the community is saying was important to them. And then we've used our skills and our connections to be able to help community members and community leaders to address those. So understanding that there's a connection between prevention of neglect and the prevention of child sexual abuse, therefore understanding the connect with family hubs and using our work and our theories and our evidence base to add value to what is already happening.

It's not about coming in and creating something new, but it's using that strength-based approach to build on what's already good. Sharing the evidence base has really helped to break the taboo. Everybody wants to prevent child sexual abuse, but there's such a taboo about it. People don't always understand the reality of it, and therefore their action to prevent harm is either not there or it's not quite in the right place, or it's not focused in the right direction. And I think our role as the NSPCC is to provide that backbone support that helps people understand how and where child sexual abuse is happening so that collectively we can work together on that shared purpose.

Developing those practical approaches together with the community partners. That's key, isn't it? Absolutely.

I just wondered from your perspective, Di, is there anything particularly around building trust within the community of Govan that you'd like to talk about over the last four years? What's been what's been key about getting that work going.

It’s similar from what Bernie, Jennie and Shelley have talked about. I think being visible was really important for us. As a place-based approach, it was important that people recognise us as practitioners within that area that we're working in; building up those relationships with the community and with other professionals. And I think it does take a long time.

But one of the things that we have always done is we've approached it [by] being interested, making sure that people know that we don't see ourselves as experts. We want to learn from each other. And I think something that helps with that is always the shared vision. And there's a lot of early support services in Govan and we all have a shared vision of ending abuse and neglect. And that's what we all want to do: get positive outcomes for children.

So when we spend a long time in a community, building that shared vision and what we want for Govan and for Govan's children, that definitely helps us then look at: what are the gaps? What's been done well? What can we... What can we help achieve with you? What can you help us achieve and other partner organisations? I think that's been key, took a long time, but I think that's been really, really important.

When we're talking about strengths-based, we're really talking about how do we use the full weight of Together for Childhood and the NSPCC to lift and celebrate what other people are doing really well and support them where they need it, rather than us, kind of, directing the flow the whole time.

One of the things that we're doing in Grimsby is really trying to unpick and identify what's already been working well and building on that. And if we think about it on a community level, rather than on an individual or a family level, we do something called asset mapping. What we do in Grimsby is we try to understand what all of our local assets are in our Together for Childhood pilot area. And we're not just talking groups, agencies, and services, we're also talking about individuals who bring strength to a community. So we map that.

And part of our work is understanding what all of those assets are, identifying how we can help strengthen those assets or give them a platform to grow and flourish, and then also promote them so other people can access them.

So just as an example, in Grimsby, there is a group of mums that identified a local park that they didn't feel was safe, but they wanted opportunities to go and spend time with their children, but they wanted a safe space to do that. They all got together and they cleaned up the park themselves. They raised some money. They were raising awareness. And by acknowledging and identifying that that group of mums were already doing that great work, what we were able to do through the asset mapping was bring all of that information, knowledge and support to that community group who were trying to do it themselves already. So they've been able to repair that park. And now even more families are benefiting from that ability to spend time together.

What that does is that enables us to celebrate the informal mechanisms that have always been overlooked, really. Those informal prevention mechanisms that happen within communities before we even see it, before we know what's happening. But what we know is they need more support to do that well They might need more training, they might need more information. And they're the places that were working, but we don't know that those brilliant people are doing those brilliant things unless we look for it.

Yeah, I think everyone should take a strength-based approach and I think that something that's helped us build our partnerships and community is recognising and celebrating success and that's what we wanted to do with them. Get the message from the NSPCC out there about the, you know, helping eradicate abuse and neglect, but also celebrating the wonderful stuff that goes on in Govan.

We also used  our campaigns with the Photo Diary Project to just, kind of, capture what people are really proud of in Govan because that often goes unseen. So that approach is definitely something that's helped build up our relationships.

I've got Jen here nodding alongside me. Do you want to come in on that?

Yeah, thanks, Pat. I'll just use an example that I think describes some of the strength-based work that we've done in Stoke. So, about three or four years ago, the NSPCC commissioned some research by Coventry University and it was with parents of children with special educational needs and disabilities. And, as probably you would expect, that report flagged up a number of gaps.

Our job was then to work with the parents to try and fill some of those gaps. But what we did, again, we turned that on its head. Rather than looking at some of the deficits within that report, we looked at some of the strengths. So, for example, some of the parents were saying, "yes, we love the PANTS messages and the underwear rule from the NSPCC, but we struggle sometimes to interpret that message for our children, particularly those children that communicate through Makaton". They identified that as a gap.

But again, we turned that on its head and said, "Well, what would you like to do about that gap? How can you help us to plug that gap?" And they did so perfectly. So that group of parents and the school – the special educational needs and disability school within our Together for Childhood area – worked together with us – with the Together for Childhood practitioners – and developed the PANTS resource into Makaton. But as well as developing that locally, that was then able to be something that could be shared widely within the organisation, but most importantly nationally.

So all of those children with SEND, whether they'd be in a special school or in a mainstream school, could have those messages around PANTS. So hopefully that just brings to life a bit of an example of how we turned on its head something that we highlighted as a gap into a positive by using the strengths that we'd already got within the Together for Childhood community.

We spoke at the beginning of this podcast about community collaborations and the importance of that, didn't we? Can we think about how you've worked with other professionals in the community particularly, and what practice-based learnings come from this co-working alongside professionals? Shelley, have you got some examples from Plymouth about this sort of work?

Thanks Pat. I think I'd be keen to share our work with our development groups. So for each of our workstreams, we have a stakeholder development group that includes a number of different organisations engaging different stakeholders. Really helps everybody understand how they can play their part in preventing child sexual abuse.

We worked with a national organisation, the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, to promote their Stop It Now campaign. And within this process, we offered some workforce development and we had a real range of stakeholders come to that, including a number of people who work in the adult system, which traditionally isn't a system we think about when we're looking to safeguard children – we quite often focus on the children system – and it was really great to have professionals from housing associations, for example, who are working with people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness or have just come out of prison. And a number of those people will have convictions for sexually harming children.

The training really helps those professionals see how they could play their part in helping to prevent further harm from happening by understanding the evidence and the theory around tackling isolation and ensuring that people have got meaningful activities. So it really helped to bring everybody together again around a shared outcome.

That's really interesting, Shelley, because we know, don't we, that a lot of people know more and more about child abuse, but there's just not enough being done to prevent it.

So this whole discussions with other professionals around supporting them practically and thinking about how they can respond in a far more effective way, I think is really, really important work. Bernie, some of the professionals you work with in Grimsby, what are some of the groups that you've been linking with?

One of the things that we've been talking about in Grimsby is whether we use the term 'professionals', because how does that alienate what our local community groups and the workforce – kind of the more informal workforce – contribute and bring to the project?

When we talk about professionals, we're thinking about our police partners, our social care partners, those with a professional qualification. But actually that workforce is much broader than that. And that's where we're trying to really sit with that and think about that professional humility.

Some of the practical things that we've taken from that is exactly what Shelley was saying and Jennie had said earlier about that 'silo working'. There's so much work that happens separately and not everybody knows what each other's doing. So we've been able to really create that connection between all of those different groups and organisations. By having that bird's eye view, we're able to identify where connections don't exist and where there are gaps in those links. So we can really pull together that information, help other people understand how to navigate the system.

Schools especially, you know, schools are in a position where they– it's very difficult to get their head around the local social care system, but also they don't know about all of the community activity that is happening. So we've been able to be that pin in the middle that brings all of those things together.

One of the things that really helps us to do that is to develop shared learning and shared language – and I'm sure Di will talk to you a bit more about it, because Sharing the Brain Story has really taken off in Govan – but Sharing the Brain Story is really something that's helped us in Grimsby to really think about how we can all talk the same language, so how we all have an equal understanding of the science of brain development, how that can be derailed, how we can provide healthy, positive experiences for children to grow healthy brains.

And what that means is that you can bring community members, schoolchildren, teachers, professionals right across the spectrum. And we're talking about the same thing, using the same words. For us that's a really important learning that we've had: that we can't keep knowledge and learning from people just because it might not land in a way that it's easy to understand. We need to change the way that we share knowledge by shifting the accessibility of it.

Di, can I just bring you in around the Sharing the Brain Science, because it is something that's really taken off, isn't it, in Govan?

Yeah. I mean, I think in the last few months we have delivered it to approximately 100 professionals now, with a huge waiting list. But it has been great in sharing the language, for sure. Anywhere you go in Govan just now people are talking about Sharing the Brain Story. And one of the great partnerships we've got is with Who Cares Scotland about hearing the voice of the looked after child and young person. We need to do that much better. We have delivered the Sharing the Brain Story to all of Who Care Scotland and their volunteers. And in exchange they've come to Govan and shared with all the professionals their 'Listen and Learn', which is a workshop that really focuses in on real life experience of children who have been looked after and young people and what that feels like and the stigma that’s attached. And that's kind of grown as well into the schools now, so that we're all much more aware of what that's like and what we can do to help and scaffold some of that stigmatising behaviour.

Can I just add around trauma-informed – I think that's a real central component to creating the conditions for prevention of all types of harm to children. I think understanding that what happens to children in childhood can impact on their life-long outcomes and their behaviours really makes a difference. And actually by raising awareness that by being kind and by creating physically and emotionally safe environments, that really helps to enable children to heal and thrive. And if we also take an intergenerational approach to that and a whole family support approach, then actually we will progress on to system change and long-term prevention of all childhood abuse.

Thanks, Shelley. I think that might be a theme maybe we need to look at in future podcasts around the trauma-informed approach that I know all of the sites are taking on board in your work and making sure that that's a keystone of the thinking in terms of the activities and the ways of working. Jen, I'll just bring you in on that final question around practice-based learning and working with professionals in Stoke. What what have you seen?

What we've seen in Stoke, similar to the colleagues in other Together for Childhood sites: partnership, collaboration has been key really. Well, I think just to try and demonstrate how key it has been I'll choose two particular work areas, one of which is harmful sexual behaviour. So we've worked with partners for about three or four years. Initially we supported the Staffordshire Commissioner's Office to undertake a HSB audit across Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire, and that as you would expect came up with a number of findings and recommendations and they were collated in a report.

In response to that, the Staffordshire Commissioner's Office set up a harmful sexual behaviour steering group – the first of its kind. They also developed a harmful sexual behaviour strategy – again, the first of its kind in the area. And, as you would expect, underneath the strategy sits a comprehensive action plan which looks to address the priorities in the strategy. Something came up in the audit that was the number of practitioners didn't feel able, don't feel that they've got the confidence or the competence to work with children who are displaying problematic sexual behaviour.

Of course we all know that there's not the specialist services – in any of our areas I don't think – for those particular children. So a couple of practitioners in Stoke took it upon themselves to develop a resource for those professionals working in universal and targeted settings that they can actually use with children displaying problematic sexual behaviour. Though this resource looks at session plans, it looks at actual practical things that they can do with working with these children or people, as well as things like templates and safety plans that that can be worked with. And it's the intention for this document now to be produced into an NSPCC resource which can most importantly be used locally, but as well the added benefit that it can be used nationally as well.

Thanks, Jen. I think that's a really good point there to stop the session, because we're talking here about almost the next stages of Together for Childhood in a way. Four and half years... Over four and a half years it's been running now, and we're getting to that stage where from the four sites here there are beginning to be some work, some activities– I hasten not to use the word services, because that's not what you've been describing I don't think. What we're talking about here is ways of working that come from the community, filling gaps and needs, but which are sort of addressing issues that are national. These are issues that other communities all around the country, all around the UK, need to be looking at. Thinking about harmful sexual behaviour, problematic sexual behaviour, working in some of the really difficult work in Govan and in Grimsby around early childhood adversity – these are gaps which everyone is struggling with.

So it's an exciting period of time, I think, for Together for Childhood into the second five years of its ten year journey where we're going to hopefully see ideas take root in other parts of the country that have been developed, tested and launched from Together for Childhood sites at the NSPCC. So really exciting times ahead I think. And I'd just like to say thanks to our four Development Managers who we've been talking to today. So that's Bernie from Grimsby, Jennie from Stoke, Shelley from Plymouth and Di from Govan in Glasgow. Thanks for your thoughts today on the issues around communities, working relationships, strengths-based working and some of the really exciting collaborations that are happening with local audiences, Bernie – I'm not going to say professional audiences I'm saying local audiences – that you're all working with.

Thanks for listening to this NSPCC Learning podcast. At the time of recording, this episode’s content was up to date but the world of safeguarding and child protection is ever changing – so, if you're looking for the most current safeguarding and child protection training, information or resources, please visit our website for professionals at