Place-based approaches to preventing child abuse and neglect
Denise Coster, Alice Harrison, Claire White, Bernie Taylor, Emily Robson-Brown, Gill Churchill and Paul Whalley
How has collective learning helped develop Together for Childhood, a place-based approach to preventing child abuse and neglect?
Adversity, abuse and neglect can have a devastating impact on the lives of children, preventing them from reaching their full potential. The NSPCC has developed Together for Childhood, a place-based, innovative, evidence-informed approach, to bring local partners and families together to make communities safer places for children. We are working with local organisations and communities to raise awareness of abuse, to develop a shared vision of preventing abuse and to find earlier and better ways to support children and families.
Together for Childhood has been developed in local areas within Glasgow, Grimsby, Plymouth and Stoke-on-Trent. The implementation report, Learning Together, is the first published learning from Together for Childhood.
Evaluation activity has focused on how Together for Childhood was implemented. We looked at current policies and existing data available in the Together for Childhood areas. We conducted 67 semi–structured interviews with NSPCC staff, partners from local agencies and the community to ask about how it’s going in practice. We have also reflected on our observations of debate and decision-making in meetings. These insights have been given back regularly to inform the development of Together for Childhood.
We have five key messages and we hope that this learning will be useful for others seeking to undertake similar place-based initiatives:
1. It’s important to develop a shared vision
A key challenge for Together for Childhood has been to remain true to the vision of preventing abuse whilst making the initiative responsive to the priorities of local areas. The NSPCC designed high-level theories of change to guide early development but it became clear that the vision needed to be shared and adapted in order to reflect local challenges. So we have steadily moved to more locally-driven projects.
2. Building effective partnerships is key
Local governance arrangements were set up in each site to build up trust and drive the project forward. This has taken time and commitment and the pace has varied in different areas. In one Together for Childhood area a prototype model was already in place to facilitate partnership working. In other areas partnership working was more of a challenge due to limited capacity, organisational restructures and different priorities.
3. It’s important to work with local communities from the start
Community engagement is really important to place-based initiatives, but not all communities are ready to engage immediately. There can be resistance from local communities who may distrust external interventions. It is important to engage community members at the beginning to understand their priorities and willingness to be involved.
4. Do your best to co-create activities
A key ambition for Together for Childhood is that activities are co-developed with local partners and communities. As Together for Childhood progressed, activities have developed at different rates across sites, influenced by factors such as local priorities, community identified needs, and opportunities that have emerged.
The tricky challenge for Together for Childhood has been how to develop activities that contribute towards the aim of preventing abuse whilst also adapting to help partners and local communities address particular issues. Local theories of change help to tease out different views about what partners are aiming for and how we should work together.
5. Place-based initiatives take time!
It is important to recognise the amount of time and resource it takes to deliver such a complex initiative. Trusting relationships take time to develop among stakeholders and it can take ten years or more for a place-based intervention to begin to demonstrate impact.
Together for Childhood represents a new way of working. We want to work in this way so that we can achieve system change in the prevention of child abuse and neglect in local communities. Together for Childhood is an ambitious, 5-10 year initiative which aims to provide one of the richest sources of evidence worldwide on place-based approaches. As more co-created activities are developed and delivered the evaluation will have an increasing emphasis on measuring how specific activities contribute to the aims and aspiration for Together for Childhood.
Let us know your stories of how you are achieving real change in local areas, as we would love to learn together. Please email Gillian.Churchill@nspcc.org.uk with your stories.
About the authors
Denise Coster, Alice Harrison, Claire White, Bernie Taylor, Emily Robson-Brown, Gill Churchill and Paul Whalley all work at the NSPCC on the evaluation team for Together for Childhood.