Jade Briant provides her insights into how the VCSE sector and community facilitators can be supported to deliver a structured, evidence based model like SFSC having worked in numerous boroughs across London doing exactly this for the last 10 years.
Many of the projects I have rolled out in Islington, Waltham Forest, Westminster, Camden and now Barking and Dagenham have had a key aim of building capacity amongst grassroots community and faith organisations. This has been about providing these organisations with the tools to deliver well regarded models, training and supporting practitioners to develop their skills, modelling good practice, introducing evaluation concepts and providing the best possible services for all stakeholders. These things take time and one of the lessons learnt is that to embed this and build respectful and equitable relationships with the sector, we need to work alongside these groups over a period of years. The most successful of the projects I have worked on have this longevity and allow for a real growth in confidence in organisations and individuals, and allow for properly embedded and sustainable programmes and practice.
Building relationships is really at the heart of this work. Mapping what already exists, from spaces that will be warm, welcoming and accessible for parents to organisations that engage with particular communities, to key individuals who may make for fantastic facilitators; this is a crucial part of my role. Communicating who I am and what the Foundation does, as well as the benefits that the SFSC model might provide for local families is important, and often doing this several times, with different people from the same organisation may be required. This stage can’t be rushed although most of the time there is a real time pressure as funders want delivery not endless conversations! I try to build on already established networks (statutory and voluntary) and work hard to gain trust within yet to be engaged local services, some of whom naturally see me as a competitor. This is why I try to emphasise partnership and collaboration, making sure that all stakeholders will benefit from what I am doing alongside what I might want from them.
I also spend time understanding the local communities in an authority. Who are the families and where do they live? This can be ethnic or faith groups or considering if there are high numbers of young parents for example. Programme mapping as part of planning delivery is important to ensure that all geographical areas and communities in a borough have easy access to the SFSC programmes I am planning.
Another aspect of what I do is to consider interagency working and how I can facilitate that. Lots of the small groups we support have expertise in the work they do but are often poor in terms of resources like high quality venues. I try to bring together Youth Clubs, Community Hubs, Community Organisations, Family Hubs, Schools, Children Centres, Charities and places of worship to establish regular running SFSC. So we may end up running a programme for Somali parents delivered in partnership with a Somali community group in a Children’s Centre. This can be a win for all sides, and can lead to some long running relationships that would never have happened otherwise.
We want to upskill delivery partners in the hope that they see first hand best practice, have a chance to implement it whilst receiving intensive support and can then continue rolling this out after the initial programme delivery. We support newly trained facilitators by having a designated first point of contact who provides regular supervision, feedback to help professional development, offers peer support where facilitators come together to share their experiences throughout the journey (from the training stage to delivering their first programme to being a seasoned facilitator of many programmes). The role of the Programme Officer is key to this process; being the person at the end of the phone to reassure and offer support and solutions is really valued by new facilitators.
We also support the delivery of SFSC in a community language, overseeing experienced and newly trained facilitators to be able to deliver top quality programmes to communities that wouldn’t be able to engage otherwise. Pairing up facilitators with expertise (often people from our team or from a pool of highly skilled facilitators) with less experienced practitioners is an important aspect of the way we work and allows for a really meaningful journey for facilitators. Over the years I have seen individuals nervous and unsure if they could successfully deliver one of our parenting programmes, develop to become confident and self assured, sharing their ideas and supporting others. I have also seen facilitators gain invaluable family work experience which leads to new roles within the statutory/voluntary sector.
This community based SFSC work creates new opportunities for community members to access parenting support that they might not have done previously, or use crèche provision for the first time. It introduces parents to new services that they will continue to use after the programme has finished, gets parents more involved in local groups or PTA engagement and start to think about their own personal development.
Building the capacity of community organisations to deliver SFSC has so many great outcomes. For local authorities, it increases the services that are available for families, develops better interagency working and can lead to better engagement of minority communities in services. For community organisations, they are able to offer evidence-based models more confidently, improve practice, provide a new service to the communities they serve and potentially access funding pots previously not open to them. Their workers and volunteers increase their confidence, knowledge and skills, and improve their practice and career opportunities. And the biggest winners are local families. Parents who get high quality services, enhance their knowledge and parenting skills, and make a difference to their relationships; and children who are better supported, happier and more socially competent and confident.