Ask any officer who manages ASB cases as part of their role what the most challenging aspect of their job is and the likely answer will relate to partnership working: blockages in information sharing, difficulties in getting agencies to attend meetings, actions not being undertaken; the list goes on.
What do we mean by the word ‘partnership’? I recently invited Kim Newman, a collaboration expert, onto my podcast to discuss effective partnerships and this was the first question that I posed to her. Her response? A number of people or agencies coming together to share resources, in order to meet a common and agreed objective.
As we reflected on this definition further, there were a number of pillars that Kim highlighted being essential for partnership working: having common objectives, reciprocity, reflection and perception. I explore each of these in more detail below.
One of the barriers to effective partnership working is often not realising that we are trying to achieve the same aim. A frequent example of this might be where a support worker hears the words “ASB” or “tenancy enforcement” within your job title and assumes that your only goal is to evict the person that they are trying to support. This is likely to be in direct conflict with what the support worker is trying to do, in terms of bringing stability to their client, and therefore, they may be reluctant to share anything with you.
In reality, we know that the very last thing an ASB officer wants to do is evict a household or issue a Community Protection Notice or seek an Injunction. In the majority of cases, save for the very serious, the primary objective is to work with those causing the ASB to try and resolve it as easily and painlessly as possible.
The irony, therefore, is that the objectives of the ASB officer are exactly the same as the support worker. In fact, we know that some perpetrators work best where there is an incentive to accept the assistance that is being offered to them and the powers that the ASB officer has may actually help achieve this. Whereas a support agency may be struggling to get someone to accept support on a voluntary basis, the consequences that refusal could have with regards the use of the ASB toolkit could be the leverage to get the person engaged.
Where engagement with a certain agency is poor, it might be worth considering whether the above is the possible reason and if steps can be taken – such as inviting the agency to one of your team meetings, asking to meet (virtually, if needs be!) for a coffee to have a “getting to know you chat” – to clarify each other’s roles and burst any bubbles of misunderstanding about each other.
Chances are you have a flaky friend. That one person who rings for support and advice constantly. You give up quite a lot of your time but never hear anything from them until the next time that they need something. When you require something in return, the response is lukewarm or even non-existent. You likely feel resentful, angry, frustrated and are unlikely to be willing to offer your time to them again.
This analogy often plays out when it comes to partnership working. We are all extremely busy and time is often limited. If we are asked to do something, perhaps to trawl through our systems, in order to gather and share information that may be requested by another agency and then we never see an outcome for our efforts, we are likely to begin to doubt the value in the exercise and find it hard to justify using our limited time in such a way in the future.
The moral of the story is this – please ensure that you are courteous of other agencies time and resources. Only ask for what is necessary and seek to always ensure that the information is used to bring about a positive outcome that supports the other agencies goals also. Remember to advise what is being done with that information. As humans, our automatic conclusion on not receiving feedback is to assume that nothing is happening. If a partner perceives their time to have been a worthless exercise then they are unlikely to want to put the same effort in again. In reality, the officer in receipt of the information may be doing lots behind the scenes but what they have done is forget to communicate this to the partner.
An effective partnership should be about give and take: If the Council ASB team agree to lead on an injunction to deal with a partnership issue, the police agree to support the action through helping to gather evidence or by providing a witness statement; If the police agree to seek a closure order to bring quick respite to a long-suffering community, the housing team agree to serve notice and seek possession under the absolute ground.
I refer to this in my podcast episode as urban myths. The concept that we have labelled another agency in a certain way, because of experiences from many, many years ago. For example, we may have had a poor experience with an environmental health team a decade ago and because of that, we have simply got into the habit of never inviting them to multi-agency meeting or trying to engage with them. There are a wide range of reasons why we may have had that poor experience and it does not equate that the same response would be received now.
I would encourage people to not allow perceptions and beliefs based on historic events to hinder effective partnership working. We should be reaching out to these teams and trying to re-engage them.
One of the reasons why agencies may not engage with us, such as not attending multi-agency forums, is because they do not understand the purpose of them, their role and the benefits that they might get from attendance. Remember, that all agencies will have a multitude of meetings to attend and if it is not clear why they should attend an ASB forum then it is likely to fall way down their priority list.
There is a responsibility on these forums to be mindful of this risk. Perhaps be flexible in the approach to managing the meeting – is an agency only really required for some of the meeting? Can these agenda items be grouped together and the agency therefore only be required to attend some of the meeting? Always make sure that the objectives of the partner agencies are recognised and that the content of the meeting is designed in such a way that the benefits are clear to them.
The importance of review and reflection should never be underestimated. I have attended far too many meetings which are effectively talking shops; there are no real outcomes, the actions are not clear or time-bound, there is no level of accountability when actions are not completed and cases simply rumble, appearing on the agenda for months and months with no genuine conclusion.
Perhaps part of this is because the right people aren’t around the table to present the jigsaw piece that is desperately needed to resolve the cases? Perhaps the focus of the meeting has been lost and people are no longer clear on what the objectives of the forum are?
Whatever the reason, a feeling that a multi-agency forum is not working should give rise to the opportunity to reflect on what is not working. Perhaps to revisit the purpose and objectives, as well as reviewing and agreeing membership and determining a safe mechanism for managing accountability and conflict. This blank page can allow for missing agencies to be re-engaged and for meaningful conversations to be held with them about what could secure their attendance in future.
I say without exception that the most effective ASB services I see are those that have the partnership arrangements in place and working well. A little time to review your current practices and consider some of the above points could bring real dividends in terms of being able to resolve ASB complaints more efficiently and effectively, saving you precious time and, above all, best-supporting victims and communities that are suffering ASB.
You can check out my podcast episode with Kim Newman here. She has also created a scorecard to help you assess how well you collaborate with others.
Want to learn more about effective case management principles? My new textbook is available to purchase on Amazon now. More details can be found here.