The successes of a joint initiative between Together and London Probation spanning two decades have been the subject of a study to reveal the crucial behaviours and characteristics that make a partnership thrive.
The Forensic Mental Health Partnership has 20 projects based in probation, courts and police stations, working to ensure individuals with a mental health needs are identified, assessed and referred to the right support in the community
The researchers, led by Professor Paul Senior from the Hallam Centre for Community Justice at Sheffield Hallam University, wanted to capture and describe the defining characteristics of this unique partnership, which has delivered vital support to thousands of people during its 20 year lifespan, even when the policy climate was unsupportive or when funding sources were uncertain and scarce. The hope is that these characteristics can be replicated in the development of new partnerships, particularly as the probation service undergoes wholesale change.
A range of interview methods were used to gather information from those involved in the partnership and its key stakeholders, revealing five critical success factors that meant the initiative sustained its strength and impact for two decades.
The five key factors for success were identified as:
1. Bridging systems
The Forensic Mental Health Partnership had the capacity to open doors and provide an integrated approach. People with mental health problems can get caught up between the big systems of health, criminal justice and social care and single agencies often can’t provide them with a complete service
2. Instilling an ethos
The partnership adopted an ethos of expecting success and focussing on bringing about positive outcomes for individuals, in a way that permeated all of its services and transcended individual practitioners.
3. Creating a model that works and sticking to it
A key strength was that the delivery model was consistent across many London boroughs whilst being flexible in response to local need.
4. Employing the best people
There was a continued commitment to recruiting practitioners with a high level of qualifications and a varied skill set, as well as providing them with external clinical supervision and a focus on building good quality interpersonal relationships.
5. Understanding what joint leadership really means
Joint leadership within the partnership was consistent, with neither party putting themselves centre-stage, but instead focussing on navigating differences and challenges together, and staying true to the ultimate aim of more effectively supporting a group of vulnerable people.
Together and London Probation began conversations about a potential partnership in the 1990s following the case of an individual with mental health needs who entered a lion’s den in a local zoo while on probation, with tragic consequences. It was revealed that a good probation officer had been struggling with the complex task of working across health and social care, and identified the need for specialist support to probation that would meet the specific needs of those with mental health needs within the criminal justice system.
The initiative began with one project and has grown exponentially since then. In police stations and courts, Together’s liaison and diversion (L&D) practitioners identify, screen and assess individuals in custody and those on bail. They offer immediate support and advice, and also decide on appropriate follow-on support, using their links with local agencies to arrange help with housing, addictions or debt, for example. By helping people tackle their problems, the likelihood of reoffending can be significantly reduced. The practitioners also work alongside court probation staff and prepare reports for court that give the judiciary vital information to help them make decisions about bail and remand. This helps to avoid unnecessary prison sentences where a community sentence would be more appropriate.
Within probation settings, practitioners work in close collaboration with probation colleagues to support people with mental health and complex needs who are on a community order. Through joint sentence planning, the delivery of short-term therapeutic interventions and referrals to community services – as well as providing advice and consultation to probation staff – people are supported to complete their orders, thereby reducing their risk of offending again in the future.
The researchers made a number of recommendations in light of their findings, including that this model of partnership is taken up by agencies participating in the Government’s Transforming Rehabilitation programme.
Professor Paul Senior, who conducted the research, commented: The story of this partnership is one of survival, of ingenuity against the odds, of dedication and of expertise. At its heart is the story of how partnerships between agencies working at a point of convergence of criminal justice, health and social care can not only survive but grow and prosper.
The longevity and success of the partnership is testimony to the resilience of the practitioners and the tenacity of the project leaders in their determination to get equality of access for this often neglected group.
Linda Bryant, Together’s Director of Criminal Justice services said: Working with individuals who so often fall between gaps in services, we’re acutely aware that good partnership working is everything. Often, we find ourselves applying the same principles to our partnership working as we do to helping an individual in need: embracing difficulty as a starting point for positive change, building resilience and resources, seeing the whole picture rather than a collection of disparate problems to tackle.
As a voluntary sector provider, we can be more nimble than most about the services we provide and this adds crucial flexibility to our partnerships. We have needed to be constantly aware of the environment we’re operating in and quick to respond to it – something we will continue to do as we prepare to deliver services in a newly changing climate. A true partnership is one that stands the test of time, pressure and scarce resources to continue changing lives for the better.
Click here to read A working partnership: analysis of the relationship between probation in London and Together for Mental Wellbeing by Professor Paul Senior and Rachel Kinsella