Headlines: November 4th, 2004

Communities that Care schemes designed to improve young people’s school achievements and at the same time reduce the risks of crime and other problems have the potential to make a real difference to the way local preventive services are planned and delivered according to new research. The researchers are warning, though, that differences in the levels of implementation achieved in three demonstration projects in England and Wales mean the programme’s effectiveness has still to be conclusively established.The Communities that Care programme was introduced to Britain from the United States six years ago with funding from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. The idea is to use knowledge about risk and protective factors in children’s lives as an auditing tool to help plan prevention strategies tailored to meet local priorities. The long-term aims are to promote achievement and cut problem behaviour including drug taking and school-age pregnancies, by encouraging local people and professionals to make sure their plans include evidence-based programmes whose effectiveness have been demonstrated through research.

Researchers at Sheffield University have monitored the progress of the first three CtC programmes and also used surveys of local secondary school students to look for signs of progress in reducing risk factors among young people and increases in the level of protective factors.

The research found all three demonstration programmes managed to involve a wide range of partners and local people. A total of 33 different initiatives were planned, most of which focused on the parents of young children or on children of pre-school or primary school age, including support schemes for young families, parenting education programmes, after-school clubs and social and thinking skills classes. But only 15 had been implemented by the end of the three-year evaluation period.

The so-called ‘Southside’ area scheme was broadly successful in delivering its plan and put eight different programmes into action and there was evidence from the surveys that life for children in the area had improved. In the ‘Westside’ and ‘Northside’ schemes the local CtC plans were not implemented as fully as intended. In ‘Northside’ delays and problems meant only three limited initiatives had been introduced, none of which lasted more than six months.

The report suggests one factor explaining the ‘Southside’ neighbourhood’s relative success was previous experience of partnership working between local people and professionals. Good communications between agencies, at senior management level and locally, were also seen as being important.

Dr Alan France, a co-author of the report, said CtC was designed as a long-term community intervention programme so it was not surprising that the evaluation remained inconclusive about the impact the three demonstration projects had had. “However, there is evidence that – if implemented well – the CtC approach could make a long-term contribution to the development of services. Its strong commitment to evidence-based approaches in defining the problem, in identifying programmes and in implementation provides a real opportunity for future success,” he said.