Jane Glover, Re-Unite Development Manager, reports on the outcomes from the first annual Re-Unite conference, and considers what the Re-Unite project really is 

Re-Unite Partner conference 2012It was great to see everyone at the Re-Unite annual conference in London in October 2012. We were lucky enough to have some excellent presentations and there was some interesting discussion and debate. But one comment struck me more than any other that day, when a delegate asked: “But what is Re-Unite?”

This person was right to be pondering the question and clearly not alone; on the feedback forms another delegate had jotted down: “Does Re-Unite include housing?” Moreover, a third had scribbled: “Is Re-Unite unique”?

So, how exactly do we articulate Re-Unite? Is it a “model”, an “approach”, “a catch-all” or something different? I left the conference thinking that perhaps we need a common language or an easy way to describe it.

As I travel around the country meeting organisations who are interested in working with us I describe Re-Unite as “an outcomes-based approach, which draws on eight principles”. Put simply: Re-Unite is about supporting mothers and their children into safe, stable housing, which helps in reducing re-offending and gives children a fighting chance in life. We achieve this by focusing on eight principles:

  • Early in-reach contact
  • Through the gate service
  • Early reuniting with children (where appropriate)
  • Individual, tailored support for women
  • Family treated as an entity
  • Help in finding or securing settled housing
  • User involvement and feedback
  • Move-on support but aim for independence

How these eight principles are delivered may, and probably will, vary depending on local circumstances. Projects will ask themselves: What skills and resources do we have available? What other services are available locally? Who owns the available housing stock in our area? What existing relationships can we draw upon to pull the package together?

The Re-Unite Manual gives us more clues about what it means to deliver Re-Unite. The manual was developed following the evaluation of the first Re-Unite project in South London and includes all the wisdom and experience that was gathered from this process. It gives us a neat checklist of three things that make it possible to meet the eight principles:

Successful delivery of Re-Unite requires the partner organisation(s) to be able to provide, as a minimum:

  • Access to suitable housing (either from own stock or through formal or informal agreements with housing providers).
  • Housing management skills (ensuring that the landlord is competent and will act reasonably and that the housing is safe and of a decent quality).
  • Support services skills (as required by the family, for example, employment, benefit and debt, mental health support and children’s services, delivered directly by the organisation or in partnership with other services).

So, does Re-Unite include housing? Yes, but how we provide that housing can (and should) vary from project to project. In South London, Housing for Women has a portfolio of houses they rent out. In Birmingham, Anawim have forged a pathway with one specific housing association. Elsewhere, in Gloucestershire, ISIS is building relationships with a range of providers, including private landlords.

And of course, the same applies to all the different principles. Re-Unite does not define specifically how they are delivered but simply that they must be delivered, and broadly in the sequence shown. They should also be delivered with a view to achieving the overall aim of Re-Unite – of providing reunited, stable family units in appropriate housing.

And finally, is Re-Unite unique? I look at it in the following way. Re-Unite provides a very unique opportunity to focus on a specific group of vulnerable families with specific needs. We are talking about mothers and children that were separated by custody and now need a lot of support, and not least a family home, if they are ever going to rebuild a safe, stable and enjoyable life together.
Of course, this conjures up an array of questions. Who are they and where do they live? What are their specific needs? What are the best ways to support them? And how many families are there?

At the moment, nobody knows the answer to these questions, but Re-Unite is in a unique position to start to find the answers. As a nationwide project now collecting consistent data on a regular basis about mothers exiting custody, my hope is that in one or two years from now, we will know a lot more about these mothers and children and how we can best help them. That, to me, is unique.