Re-Unite recently ran its first Re-Unite conference, a day that brought together delivery partners to discuss how the Re-Unite support model is developing as it is rolled out across England. Here we provide an overview of key points from the day

Speaking from experience

Housing for Women, Re-Unite’s South London partner, opened the conference with an overview of how it is successfully running the project in that area. To date, 29 families have been reunited, with 13 families having moved on to successful, independent living. Only one woman working with them has reoffended.
Zaiba Qureshi, Director of Supported Housing at Housing for Women, explained how they have been adopting the widely used Outcomes Star to successfully measure women’s progress through the project. This is a tool that both measures and supports progress for service users towards self-reliance or other goals. The Stars are designed to be completed collaboratively as an integral part of an individual’s support plan. As a result, Housing for Women is now piloting a Star designed specifically for use with children.
Lily Stevens, Project Coordinator at Housing for Women, explained that three volunteer mentors provide support and advocacy for the women on a weekly basis. The support from volunteer mentors has been invaluable and they hope to expand their pool of peer mentors in the future.

We also heard from Children’s Worker Micki Whyte, who highlighted the lack of understanding in schools about the impact of parental imprisonment.

Practice notes

  • Lily Stevens works in six prisons. She links with the housing and support advisors and raises awareness of Re-Unite.
  • A particular frustration is that some prisons insist that Support Workers book their visits using the Legal Visits booking system, thereby limiting access and flexibility.
  • Parenting support is often invaluable when women are reunited with their children. Re-Unite projects should consider whether they can signpost women to appropriate parenting services, for example in children’s centres.

To find out more, contact Zaiba Qureshi
T: 0207 501 6169 or E:  Zaiba Queresi

How to pitch Re-Unite

Carmel George and Tim Carter from NOMS acknowledged the challenges (and rarity) of services working across both the criminal justice sector and the children and families sector. They emphasised that NOMS would not recommend specific models of rehabilitation. Its guidelines to local commissioners will be based on the ‘what works’ literature and will include prompts for consideration, including:

  • Can you prove the services you are purchasing will reduce reoffending? This can include proxy measures, such as housing.
  • Which prisoners are you commissioning services for? Is it the ‘easy’ ones who can already manage a tenancy, such as women who are not repeat offenders?
  • Has the service been independently evaluated?
  • Has the service been validated by local children’s services or housing providers?
  • Are service users encouraged to solve their problems themselves?

Practice notes
What you should consider:

  • Is the housing that you provide fit for purpose? If so, it is important to emphasise this to commissioners. Your service will stand out if you provide a good standard of accommodation.
  • Local government already provides housing and support services. Where is your service filling a gap?
  • Who really saves the money and who really reaps the benefits if your service is successful? NOMS may not be the main or only benefactor. Spell this out.
  • The private rented sector (PRS) is increasingly the only real option for many families. Do you have a strategy in place for supporting service users into the PRS?

To find out more, contact Carmel George or Tim Carter

Legal considerations

Tony France from Family Focus in Gloucester provided an overview of the public law and social care maze that affects the reunification of women with their children. He recommended that Re-Unite services establish some important facts with the women as soon as possible:

  • Who has parental responsibility?
  • Is anyone likely to contest reunification?
  • Are there any current proceedings around issues such as parental orders or visiting rights, or are any planned?
  • Are there any current orders in place?
  • Are they a looked after child?
  • Are any of the Home Detention Curfews or licence conditions likely to get in the way?

Practice notes

Activities that can support successful reunification include:

  • Conducting an outreach consultation before a full assessment – meet people in the home and fully understand their specific circumstances.
  • Providing enrichment activities to facilitate quality family time.
  • Offering carers’ weekends as an opportunity to involve grandparents and carers in the process.
  • Initiating weekly support groups for young people.
  • Developing a multi-agency approach with schools, GPs, drugs workers and other voluntary sector organisations.

For more information, contact Tony France

Ensuring a high quality service across a number of providers

Jane Glover, Development Manager for Re-Unite, is tasked with ensuring the delivery network for the Re-Unite programme goes from strength to strength. But as more and more partners come on board and deliver positive social impact across England, how should Re-Unite ensure all providers still offer a sufficiently high quality service that meets the original aims and principles while retaining flexibility and individuality?

Harman O’Neill, Development and Delivery Officer at the Foyer Federation, outlined how it addressed a similar challenge when developing a network of Foyers across the country. Foyer Federation opted to develop an accreditation process known as the Foyer Status Mark, which enabled them to:

  • Define what a Foyer is – what is unique about it.
  • Duplicate and regulate it.
  • Gate-keep the brand whilst constantly pushing Foyers to improve and develop.
  • Recognise and share what works.
  • Influence policy and practice.

Accreditation of the Re-Unite project would come with a cost both to Commonweal and to Re-Unite providers. While no decisions have yet to be been taken it is important to start this debate.
Re-Unite welcomes feedback from partners and urges you to consider the following questions:

  • Do you want Re-Unite to become quality assured?
  • What (if anything) would make it worth paying for?
  • Should it be following the Foyer Federation approach or are there other suggested approaches?
  • How ‘big’ should Re-Unite go? Should it become a social enterprise using a social franchising model, for example, to roll out further?
  • How soon should this start?

For more information, contact Jane Glover
T: 07977 239 380) or E: Jane Glover

What you told us

This is the first time Commonweal has brought together partners and those involved in ensuring Re-Unite delivers successful projects to discuss what is and is not working. Seeking feedback is really important. Here is a snapshot of what you had to say:
A reassuring 100% of you found the conference “very” or “extremely” informative.

  • 71% of you thought it was a good opportunity to voice your views.
  • 78% of you feel you now know more about Re-Unite.
  • 79% of you feel “very” or “extremely” positive about the future of Re-Unite.

Note: received feedback from 74% of delegates
During the afternoon session, you told us that delivering Re-Unite offers a range of benefits to your organisation:

  • Gives an opportunity to focus work on this small group of very vulnerable individuals.
  • Provides a support network of organisations working with the same remit.
  • Enables an open discussion with housing providers.
  • Helps steer a way of working across the four platforms of criminal justice, children’s services, adult’s services and housing.
  • Identifies an opportunity to access funding.
  • Ensures a stronger united voice.

Some of these benefits are happening right now, while others are hopes for the future. You also told us about some of the challenges that you face in delivering Re-Unite. Some of these hopes and challenges are discussed in our mini manifesto below.

The Re-Unite Manifesto

You said: The greatest challenge for Re-Unite providers is access to suitable, safe housing. Many of you are looking to the private rented sector (PRS) but this takes time and you know that it is less forgiving of families with complex needs. Some of you are also concerned about the forthcoming ‘bedroom tax’ and that local areas are developing single gateway schemes, which may reduce options for accessing housing.

Re-Unite will: From January 2013, Re-Unite will begin to carry out targeted awareness raising with housing providers across England and Wales to explore how Re-Unite can best meet their needs. By ensuring (and evidencing) that we are helping housing providers to meet their own missions, aims and targets, we hope to encourage more of them to see Re-Unite clients as potential customers.

We are also aware that new ways of working are emerging, for example, the use of shared ‘bridging’ houses to give ex-offenders time to build up a tenancy history in a supported, safe environment. We will be engaging in these debates, pro-actively finding out more and sharing the information with Re-Unite colleagues.

You said: You would like to know much more about the different Re-Unite approaches across the country.

Re-Unite will: Feature a different Re-Unite project in each edition of the quarterly e-newsletter and will focus specifically on how the project is run: for example, how many project workers there are, how they access housing, what services they are providing to families, and how they are funded. In this edition we feature Re-Unite Greater Manchester.

We are also working with our evaluators to agree what the final Re-Unite evaluation report will look like in May 2013. We hope to include case studies, which set out how the different Re-Unite projects operate.

The Re-Unite website will also begin to house much more of this type of information, both for existing network members and external organisations.

You said: You would appreciate far more opportunities to share good practice and get to know the other Re-Unite organisations.

Re-Unite will: Rejuvenate the Re-Unite website to make it more fit for purpose. This will include a members area where contact details, discussion and good practice can be shared. It will also provide useful information such as the latest Re-Unite facts and figures. The website will be re-launched in January 2013.

You said: You like the fact that Re-Unite is delivered nationally because it provides an opportunity to speak out more authoritatively on important issues that impact on families you support. You would like to see Re-Unite “harnessing the power of representing lots of women”.

Re-Unite will: Start to share more success stories through national and social media, including our website and Twitter account. We would like to share the voices of children and young people who have benefited from Re-Unite, to help others to understand the broader positive impact the process is having on children. We are also planning an external facing event towards the end of April 2013 to help spread the word about Re-Unite.

Using our new Quarterly Data Monitoring sheet, we will have a large collection of information about the challenges of delivering Re-Unite and about the women and children that we are working with. This will be invaluable in responding to government consultations, raising awareness with budget holders such as Police and Crime Commissioners, working with housing providers and influencing policy more widely.

You said: You are concerned about funding Re-Unite in the coming months and years.

Re-Unite will: Collect information about your funding applications and will share this on a regular basis to avoid application duplication. We will seek out and share information about local and national funding opportunities and will share national Re-Unite information and data that is useful for funding bids. Please ask Jane Glover if there is any information you need for your applications.

Commonweal Housing has also provided additional resources to extend both the working days and the contract of the Re-Unite Development Manager to build upon the momentum and developments already achieved across the country.