• By Louise Morpeth
  • Posted on Tuesday 01st December, 2009

Swapping hats on the way to Salt Lake City

I’m on my way to Salt Lake City for two days training in Communities That Care. It is one of a number of methods (Results based Accountability and Getting to Outcomes are examples of others) concerned with changing what is done to improve children’s lives. As someone who regularly trains others in a methodology for improving outcomes – in my case Common Language, I’m looking forward to the experience. It will be refreshing to be on the other side – to participate rather than to lead. More than that, it will be a great opportunity to learn about a way of working that has been popular in the UK for many years, but, as I think I’ll find out this week, is not the same as its US counterpart.The training is part of an ambitious programme of work being led by one of the biggest child welfare foundations in the US – the Annie E Casey Foundation. They are looking to advance the field of evidence-based programmes (EBPs). As a foundation that funds programme evaluation as well as system reform, they well know that most children’s services systems do not use EBPs and that EBPs are not generally designed with systems in mind. They are looking to develop ways that help communities and systems to implement programs and maintain them - and to do it on a grand scale.Part of how they'll do this is by developing a model. They have no intention of re-inventing the wheel. Instead, with the blessing and help of developers, they want to combine the best bits of existing models – the two in question being Dartington’s Common Language, and Hawkins and Catalano’s Communities that Care. We started the process when Michael Little and I showed Common Language to a group of 20 (a mix of AECF staff and representatives of CtC). This is the return leg: CtC get to show and we get to participate.CtC has many strengths. It has a long track record – first used in the late 1980s. It works ‘from the bottom up’ by bringing together all those with a stake in the community to agree how best to improve the lives of its children. It provides a way for these conversations to happen – a step-by-step method and a common language. It uses data about children to inform what happens to those children, fostering a strong sense of ownership. It has a strong theoretical foundation and it is grounded in robust evidence. Not only does the method encourage communities to invest their resources in activities that have been proven to work, it has been shown to add value over and above that of the programmes it endorses.It appears to work best at the community level and as I understand it, outside of the children’s services system. CtC aims to promote positive development and prevent unhealthy behaviours (violence, substance use, teen pregnancy etc) - it is a prevention system. In the US, I don’t think the statutory system – with the exception of schools – is there to prevent poor outcomes, rather to respond when they happen. Which leads me to wonder whether CtC is compatible with child welfare systems. I’m also curious to know whether the model is better suited to particular communities. Does it work where there is universal poverty and serious levels of community dysfunction? Or does it better suit motivated communities already mobilising their resources?Although the model is concerned with partnership and getting all the stakeholders round the table, every process has to be led or at least initiated, and usually needs some funding. Does it matter who initiates the process? Are partnerships more successful when led or at least backed by the superintendent of schools or are the police the pivotal stakeholders? Does it matter where the money comes from?The booklet provides an optimal timeline, suggesting that it can take as little as nine months from first conversation to getting the first programme up and running. But what degree of variation is there? And how often do communities lose momentum before they get to implement their selected programmes? In the UK, many settings gathered large amounts of data on risk and protective factors but struggled to use the data to shape and implement a strategy.The model is concerned with introducing new programmes, which usually means there is a need for extra money. A more sustainable way of working draws funds away from existing services that do not work or are no longer needed. I hope the model will suggest ways of decommissioning activity to free up resources for prevention activity.And so it is with these questions and many more that I embark on my training. I look forward to being part of the debate!

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