"The timing is right": an interview with Maureen McAteer
The National Third Sector GIRFEC Project’s director outlines her hopes for its first learning event
Individuals working in children’s services will gather tomorrow at Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh for The National Third Sector GIRFEC Project’s first learning event. Holyrood caught up with project director Maureen McAteer ahead of the event, which is designed to set out emerging themes and challenges from the project so far.
“I hope the event and the work of the project continues to embed the idea of change, of improvement,” she says.
Getting it right for every child is the Government’s attempt to focus all people who work with children and young people into a consistent approach around shared core values, and McAteer says it is time for the third sector to take their seat at the table.
"The third sector are absolutely essential to delivering GIRFEC. However, I think there is a sense across the sector they could be used to greater effect," especially linking with Community Planning Partnerships. This would help people delivering statutory duties like senior teachers and health visitors link up with services in their communities, she says.
“The third sector are often at the cutting edge of innovative service delivery. They can be much more flexible and lighter of foot than big monolithic statutory organisations, so they are able to deliver in a way that fits the needs of children and young people, and communities. However, I think at times they haven’t had the opportunities to be as involved in influencing the planning agenda as they would like. I think it’s very important as we go forward, if we’re really going to deliver the aspirations of GIRFEC, they are enabled and organise within the sector to take their full place at the table, and to assist with that implementation on the ground.”
The National Third Sector GIRFEC project is a partnership between Barnardo’s Scotland, who McAteer works for, Voluntary Action Scotland and the Scottish Government Improvement Service. It is supported by other third sector partners including Coalition of Care and Support Providers in Scotland (CCPS).
Coordinating “a plethora of organisations large and small, statutory, voluntary, community” can be difficult, says McAteer.
“We’ve got a lot to learn from each other. Small organisations absolutely have that connectivity with the areas they support. They keep us very close to service users and understand what the needs and aspirations of a community are. But the big organisations sometimes have the resources and infrastructure and the connections at a senior strategic CPP level, and it’s really about developing and nurturing that collaboration across all the different partners who deliver children’s services in a locality.”
“We’ve got a lot to learn from each other"
Doesn’t such close collaboration require buy-in from all potential partners? McAteer believes everyone signs up to the values of GIRFEC, even when working in a context of diminishing resources, when focus remains on the perspective of those families who need the support the most.
“They just want that connectivity. They don’t want to have to deal with 20 different organisations. They want people to work together so they’re not constantly repeating the same information, so information is passed in a way which is respectful and proportionate and appropriate, and they get the help they need at the time they need it. It’s a phenomenal opportunity we have.”
McAteer says reducing inequalities is “the fire in my belly” and implementation of last year’s Children and Young People Bill provides a “huge” opportunity for partnership. “The truth is we are greater than the sum of our parts. We’ve got a much better chance of being able to do that when we work well together,” she says.
The project concludes in March 2016 but McAteer says it is just the start of a journey which for some has already begun. “I see our job as a project is to try and carve out some time for people to have additional neutral facilitation of some of the more difficult conversations that have to be had. The team always think it’s about planting seeds you probably won’t be around to see. It really is. Culture change isn’t a one-off event, it’s an absolute process,” she says.
And culture change is also a wider process. McAteer became project director only days after the referendum on Scottish independence.
“There is a sort of culture across Scotland at the moment that things can change. Irrespective of what the outcome of the referendum was, I think we’ve actually started to have conversations that were kind of unimaginable a few years ago, so I do think the timing is right. It’s not just about children and families, it’s about implementing the Christie commission, it’s about community empowerment, it is about health and social care integration as well as the children and young people’s act. We see our role as very much connecting to a wide range of policy as opposed to just GIRFEC.”
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