Working Together – Job Centres, Children’s Centres and Parents : Different perspectives on a common goal

Children’s Centres, JobCentre Plus and unemployed parents may be looking at the world from different perspectives, but they have a common goal. Together they have the key to changing family life in a very real and positive way. At the moment they each hold an interlocking piece of that key, but when the whole key comes together new doors to employment will be unlocked for families who are currently living on very low incomes, and in poverty.

Alien environments

Successful attempts have been made by Children’s Centre and JobCentre Plus staff in some areas of the country to work together, and there are some examples of good practice, according to Employment Minister Simon Timms. Timms suggests that JobCentre Plus should hold surgeries within Children’s Centres to improve the level of success. Fair enough, people who are bold enough to approach JobCentre Plus staff in a Children’s Centre may benefit here. But what of the JobCentre Plus staff themselves, how comfortable are they in the Children’s Centre environment?

A JobCentre/Children’s Centre environment comparison shows that in one staff and clients are separated by a desk and a computer; in the other staff and clients are more likely to sit side by side, on sofas and bean bags. In one clients are directed from place to place by security staff, in the other they are encouraged to wander and make the facility their own. For Children’s Centre and JobCentre staff, the working environment of the other is alien, and therefore not conducive to delivering best results for parents looking for work.

To be successful in reaching their inter-related goals Children’s Centre and Job Centre staff must look at one another’s working environment, and see how best a portion of it can be adapted to create an environment where staff and clients are at ease, and clients can discuss their feelings about being out of work. Such action will help to reveal the people behind the unemployment statistics, enabling lives to intersect at a different level from that of professional and parent.

Insufficient resourcing – a reason but not an excuse

Insufficient resourcing has been cited as a reason for Job Centres and Children’s Centres not working together. A good reason, but not an excuse for getting the job done. Two like-minded people – one from each Centre – can achieve far more, with no additional resources, than two whole teams who cannot agree how best to use a million pounds worth of resources. Let us not forget that there is a legal requirement for Children’s Centres and Job Centres to work together, but this should not take the fun out of it.

Small steps to success

Here are a few small suggestions on how Children’s Centres and Job Centres staff can make headway in achieving their common goals to help parents of young children find work.

Create a conducive environment

  • Weave the joint working remit into the work plan of a Children’s Centre playworker and an enthusiastic member of staff at the JobCentre.
  • Negotiate a space at the local JobCentre, Children’s Centre, or school.
  • Allocate resources. The basics are time and trimmings, such as one hour a week, some fabrics and a few bags.
  • Create a space to arouse the curiosity of children, attract parents and put everyone at ease.
  • Have a discreet stash of information leaflets to hand, but don’t display them as people tend to take a leaflet rather than talk.

Commit yourself

  • Commit yourselves to a conversation, not just a question and answer session.
  • Draw up a plan together with each parent who is looking for work. Use coloured pens and large enough piece of paper. Map skills and experiences, work related needs and wants.
  • Commit yourself to matching available jobs to the client’s needs.
  • If you need to refer the client to a colleague, make a personal introduction.

Celebrate success

  • Celebrate every single success. If one person turning up is a success, celebrate it sincerely. Build on this success.
  • Encourage clients at every stage of their job search. Make sure they get the help needed to apply for jobs, prepare for interviews and so on. You don’t have to do all of these things yourself, but you do need to create an ethos where parents want to come back and tell you about their successes.

Success breeds success

News of a positive experience spreads quickly in the Children’s Centre world; when parents are pleased with a service they recommend it to their peers. Not only that, evaluation and dissemination is integral to work within Children’s Centres, so it makes good sense for JobCentres and Children’s Centres to overcome the challenges of integrated working so that the results of successfully working together can be highlighted in public arena.

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