The Covid-19 crisis created a perfect storm – increasing the vulnerability of children and young people across the UK, while compromising the ability of charities and agencies to identify their needs and respond effectively.
The historical models of compelling providers to compete in the provision of services, rather than collaborating, is fundamentally flawed. This is a unique opportunity to change it.
What we need are genuine strategic partnerships based on interdependent working, where we come together to identify what the problems are and what the solutions could be.
The Rebalancing the Relationship report by Acevo and the NCVO is a welcome intervention in the debate, highlighting ways in which charities can deliver services in collaboration and unite for maximum impact.
In the first few months of the pandemic, Barnardo’s chose not to seek funds from the government to support “hidden” vulnerable children all on our own.
Instead, we chose to do something far more ambitious.
In response to a Department for Education tender, we proposed to create a Barnardo’s-led coalition of 10 to 15 partners across the country to reach the hidden victims of the pandemic.
We also committed to distributing at least 70 per cent of any funds from the DfE to those partners.
With DfE support, we set about building a coalition of large and small, national and local partners. Within a few weeks we had more than 80 partners, 40 per cent of which were BAME-led organisations.
To date, the Barnardo’s-led See, Hear, Respond programme has reached more than 50,000 vulnerable children and young people since its inception last summer. And 74 per cent of all income from the DfE has been distributed across the partners, many of which have said they would not have survived otherwise.
By working in partnership we have been able to reach far more children far more quickly than if we’d acted on our own.
But the partnership has also demonstrated how a collaborative, delivery model can be built at pace.
We have been able to build new levels of capacity and share expertise with a small number of large charities to provide national coverage alongside more than 70 grass-roots local partners.
These crucial place-based partners have been able to reach and support the most vulnerable and more 'hidden' children and families at the community level.
Working this way makes the 'hard to reach' much more reachable.
At the same time, many of our local partners have improved their long-term capacity to support their communities.
Learning has been an inherent part of the process.
We’ve grown our understanding of how difficult it is for small organisations to access major funding – they don't always have the developed systems in place that major funders expect and need.
With a relatively modest investment in developing the capacity of these partners, and handling the bulk of the bureaucracy, we’ve helped unleash the full potential of some truly brilliant local partners.
The success is a vindication of our long-held belief that interdependent partnership working is in the best interests of all our beneficiaries.
Through this programme we’ve demonstrated what is possible when all partners have a common aim and sense of urgency – and have become convinced that this type of collaborative delivery model will be needed long after the pandemic is over.
In the years ahead, greater partnership working will need to become central to all we do for children and young people facing crisis.
There is no doubt that 2021 brings fresh adversity.
Despite the vaccine programme, the legacy of Covid-19 will continue to affect vulnerable children and families for months and years to come.
We’re still processing our learning from See, Hear, Respond, and will look carefully at our own systems in light of this and the lessons from Acevo and the NCVO’s recent report.
What is already clear in my mind is that Barnardo’s needs to continue to champion and model working interdependently across organisations and sectors.
This will be critical to our impact moving forwards to meet the growing needs of our service users.
Javed Khan is chief executive of Barnardo’s