Olivia Vincenti, Head of Service for the Partnerships and Commissioning Team (Camden Council Children Schools and Families Directorate (CSF), has worked for Camden Council’s Children’s Services since 2003 and views VAC and the local voluntary sector as a long time key partner and provider of children’s services.
Here, Olivia talks to VAC in depth about the Council’s relationship with the sector and the commissioning of services to children and families.
“I’ve worked for Camden Council children’s services since 2003, the voluntary sector has been a key provider of children’s services and has been a long-time key partner – both individual services but also VAC. If you’re commissioning services or delivering services or working with families, clearly the local authority only delivers a fraction of the services to children and families and so the voluntary sector is essential. VAC has played a key strategic role in ensuring the sector’s voice and views can influence council policy and practice.
Each council directorate has a named person for VAC to link with and I am the named person in CSF.
CSF has currently one commissioned service from VAC and this is the Community Partnership Advisor Service (CPAS). This is a specialist service that identifies and engages with BME communities and their Faith organisations in Camden to increase their knowledge and awareness of safeguarding children. This is done in partnership with the Safeguarding Board.
The link commissioner to this service is in my team. So my involvement has been with VAC to develop the outcomes of the service, being specific about what is to be achieved, the impact and difference to be made by delivering this particular service, finding ways to measure this and monitoring these outcomes. This has been an ongoing process and done in partnership with VAC.
Q. Where does this kind of work start from?
It arises from a need being identified, evidence and agreement that it is a priority.
I wasn’t involved at the very beginning of the development of the CPA’S but at some point it was noticed that there were some communities who were just not getting the safeguarding information. There may have been a particular incident that happened that highlighted the need for the council to be proactive in making contact with the community in a non-stigmatising way so as to ensure that communities that weren’t necessarily bringing themselves forward, or were harder to reach, have the information around children’s safeguarding. All members of the community and all organisations in particular who are delivering services to children and young people need to be aware of what their safeguarding responsibilities are.
Some of those very small community organisations – and many of them are Black and Ethnic Minority groups – may not be in the network of voluntary sector forums, and just because the local authority calls a meeting, these groups won’t necessarily turn up. These are groups that really need outreach. That’s the role of the CPAS – to actually make contact with those quite small groups who won’t necessarily come forward, because they are isolated, may not have the capacity, or realise what is expected. This is an ongoing need because there are emerging groups.
Q. How important do you think VAC has been in realising this work?
As an umbrella organisation VAC doesn’t have allegiance to a particular geographic location or community group in Camden so they’re in a good position to have an overview and able to work across communities and organisations. VAC as an umbrella organisation can also make links between adults and children, for example – between health and social care. So, it’s quite a good location for multi-agency working – and doing anything around safeguarding requires multi-agency working.
VAC has delivered the CPAS since 2007. It is a specialist service and through the persistent and dedicated work of the Community Partnership Advisor they have developed the trust of BME and emerging communities to discuss and raise sensitive safeguarding issues.
Q. Could you talk about the provider forums you run in partnership with VAC?
We want to ensure that our providers of children and young people’s (CYP) services – and that’s across CSF, whether they deliver to youth or whether they’re health providers or whether they’re housing providers or early years – we want to ensure that we’ve got good communication with them. On an individual basis every provider has a link commissioner who works closely with them including monitoring their contract. But we also want the sector to support each other and to have access to each other in forging relationships and looking at best practice.
In commissioning speak there’s something called ‘developing the market.’ Part of that is enabling the ‘market,’ meaning CYP service providers, to come together from time to time and share best practice and to hear what the policies and drivers and commissioning plans are of one of their key funders as well as any learning and development opportunities that could be shared.
My role is to ensure that the CYP provider conference happens. As part of that I ensure that VAC is involved as the umbrella organisation for the voluntary sector. From the beginning I was clear that it was important to have VAC as a key partner and I invited Simone (VAC Director) to chair the conference. It’s actually a provider event or conference rather than just a forum. It’s held twice a year and so far has been very well attended with up to 90 people attending. I consult with Simone in formulating the agenda ensuring there’s a voluntary sector perspective so that it’s not solely driven by the local authority. This is a collaborative endeavour and VAC input is invaluable.
To date we have had 3 provider conferences and Simone as the director of VAC chaired all 3.
Q. How well do you think VAC delivers these events?
The conference benefits from having a credible, experienced and well known Camden figure chair the conference. There is always one presentation that is specifically VCS focussed and delivered by someone in the VCS; the director of VAC has given 2 presentations and 1 presentation was given by an external VCS speaker (recommended by VAC). The direct feedback from participants on these presentations has been very favourable.
Behind the scenes, the conference is planned in collaboration with VAC and because VAC has been an integral part of these conferences I think that may influence how people experience it, because we’ve ensured that the voice of the voluntary sector in Camden is well integrated.
Q. As an organisation, and in your experience, what’s your overall impression of VAC?
I don’t know the full scope of everything VAC do. I’m aware they run training sessions for the sector and I’m not really aware of how well that’s taken up. What I’m aware of is VAC as a strategic partner and they are a very important strategic partner. VAC does more than just children’s services. They also work with adult services and also work with the community and third sector team. There’s a contract with the Council and VAC around supporting the voluntary sector and that’s bigger than just VAC’s relationship with CSF. I was on the panel in the tendering of the Organisational Development service. It was a small field but nevertheless VAC came out well.
If anything I’d be looking at more innovation from VAC. In terms of stimulating the sector and innovative ways in order to do that. There have been some traditional ways like having provider forums. That’s been quite a traditional way of doing things. Maybe there are other ways, learning from other umbrella organisations and working with the sector and bringing that knowledge into Camden. We’re hungry for any effective, evidence based or experienced based, methods that will keep our providers engaged.
Olivia Vincenti, Camden Council.
If you are interested in any of the work you have read out about here, please get in touch with Simone Hensby at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can find out more about the Camden Council Children, Schools and Families Directorate on the Camden Council website.