It is assumed that in the coming together of individuals and/or organisations, the resulting partnership aspires for change. In such an endeavour the leaders that create impetus are not necessarily those who are placed in leadership positions. They are the individuals who are passionate about working together, working openly and doing so for the benefit of all people who access human services. They are, in effect, all members of the partnership.

The way the partnership is established must allow mechanisms for these champions of the group to thrive. It is firstly essential that individuals assigned for the most active involvement in a partnership have volunteered to do so. The responsibilities and expectations of their role must be clear from the person’s organisation and from the partnership as a whole. Expectations may, at times, be conflictual between the two and the person will need to have a mature systems understanding to manage this.

The person-centred approach to partnership aspires to systemic change towards more integrated service delivery. It is therefore important that the main members of the partnership who attend meetings from each agency or program are able to be agents of change within their own agency. While partnership may provide opportunities for all staff from different organisations to come together, it is likely that the key relationships will be made between a select few. These individuals will require a degree of influence, seniority and flexibility to effect change. Essentially the champion becomes a conduit between their agency and the partnership, finding opportunities for their agency’s expertise and resources to support partnership endeavours, and to seek to fulfil agency needs through contacts and consults sourced from the partnership.

The most valuable asset of the champion for change is someone who is able to critically reflect on their own work and that of their agency.

The critical reflective practitioner

As practitioners, to ensure we are supporting people in the best way that works for them it is important to work within person-centred principles and part of this practice is being aware of our own biases and judgements and also those of the system. Being aware of these and working within them can be a delicate balancing act that each worker performs every day.

Our own personal biases and judgements are the ‘blueprints’ of our own internal working model for the way we perceive the world, language, personal and professional relationships. Personal biases and judgements can be conscious or unconscious assumptions we make about people or experiences which affect our behaviour. Being aware of these and how they play out in our work is important to ensure we are working with the client and not against them due to our preconceived ideas. An unconscious personal bias is the automatic prescription we make when we see a person for the first time. For example when we meet a young woman for the first time, most people’s unconscious assumption is that they are a cisgender heterosexual female and until it is told to us otherwise then we will see through this lens and support this person while viewing everything they say and do with this lens. Other personal judgements that can be made are our own ideas of what people are saying. We all have words or phrases that we associate with negativity and when we hear these in conversations we can misunderstand what is being said due to the connotations we already have.

System biases and judgments result in practices by our organisation and the associated frameworks. Procedures can sometimes be prescriptive and potentially be in direct conflict with person-centred principles. A system bias that was highlighted by the Services Connect pilot was the inability for parents who did not have the majority of time with their children to receive parenting supports in the Family Services stream. Many parents in a shared care arrangement were asking for support from services to increase their parenting skills but due to the judgements of the system that they were not the main carer for their children, these parents were ineligible for a service.

Other system biases that workers needs to be aware of is how the sector discriminates in relation to who can get a service by what the type and severity of the problems they are facing. People are sent from service to service unless they are able to present at an agency and say they are having an issue that matches the agency’s. Often they need to make their ‘issue’ sound more dire than someone else’s and they are required to tell workers everything at intake. This can be especially tiresome for someone who has needed to retell their story many times and has still not been helped in the way they wish.

Once receiving a service, another bias is how the work between person and practitioner must often directly link to the agency’s specialty. This can be the most challenging bias to a person-centred principle as the goals of the person need to be re-directed or disregarded in some instances. At best, a worker would need to advocate, for example, how an employment goal relates to the core business of mental health.

The champion for person-centred partnership looks for opportunities for system change that improve support but also increases people’s autonomy and influence in their own support journey. The person should be instrumental in their own experience of change, and practitioners can also create mechanisms for clients to have systems influence and a broader say about how services are delivered.

Empowering People

The key worker was supporting a family who had involvement with Child Protection and other services, the parent explained to the key worker at the initial meeting that they were uncomfortable disclosing much information because in the past workers would pass on information to Child Protection without their knowledge. The key worker acknowledged the difficulty in this and explained that their role was to support the family’s goals and they would not divulge information to Child Protection without advising the client. After working with the client for a period of time the key worker needed to report some information to Child Protection, they explained this to the parent before making the phone call and asked how the way they could do this that the family would be the most comfortable with. Through negotiation, the key worker and the parent made the phone call together and this agreement continued throughout their working relationship.

At a home visit weeks later the parent told the key worker “I called Child Protection yesterday and told them what happened with the children. Then I asked them what they are going to do about it because I need help”. Through observing the key worker’s interactions with Child Protection and better understanding their role, this person felt empowered to advocate for their needs and their perception of Child Protection had been altered from something to be feared to an important resource.

Advocating for Change

Being a part of a  partnership has gave many of the key workers  involved in Services Connect  a sense of confidence they had not experienced before due to the support the received from the other members, the increased skills and the improved service awareness. A key worker found that they were able to take on a case coordination role in the care teams of the people they were supporting. The key worker was part of a care team for a man named ‘Kariem.’ Although he was not present at the meetings,  decisions were being made about Kariem’s care without his direct input. With the person-centred principles in mind, the key worker suggested that Kariem be present at the next meeting and an active contributor to the treatment plans. The other practitioners in the room agreed and at the next meeting the worker strived to ensure Kariem was being acknowledged or asked about his ideas.

The key worker also observed that practitioners with responsibility for actions in Kariem’s care plan were not following through with their tasks. The key worker utilised the partnership space to discuss her concerns and was encouraged to challenge the care team. The key worker then made visible the culture within this care team of ‘someone else will do it’. She explored the issue with the group in way that did not lay blame on any one person. The care team decided to change their approach for the benefit of Kariem.

Agency change

Workers involved in the Services Connect pilot ensured that they were able to be a conduit to the rest of their agency to enact changes on a worker level all the way through to a whole of agency level. This was apparent when two of the agencies acknowledged the professional development in their key worker but also the deficit in their learning calendar for the rest of the agency. These two agencies heard about the benefits and confidence their key workers experienced from attending the CRAF training with DVRCV about working with people who have experience Family Violence. The agencies have since added CRAF training to their training calendars for all staff to attend to ensure there is increased knowledge and awareness of Family Violence.

Another agency within the partnership found that the key philosophy of Services Connect resonated with the way they wanted to work with people. This agency has been in a continual process of changing their procedure to a more person-centered across their organisation. The organisation created an internal governance group of workers from different program streams whose focus is to evaluate every aspect of the organisation that clients have contact with. They have changed their intake, assessment, consent and treatment plan documentation to ensure that the language and content is best for the people they support and not for the agency. In practice all workers are encouraged to write their case notes in ‘I’ and ‘client name’ language instead of ‘the writer’ and ‘the client’. Workers are also encouraged to ensure complete transparency with clients, this means that workers are allowing clients to know specifically is written in their case notes, what assessments they have received from other services when getting a file transfer and the content of assessments.

After implementing these changes, workers within the organisation have had greater engagement with clients and have had experiences, when disclosing to clients the information they gathered from other services, where clients had been unaware that information was even being collected at the time. Although the changes for this organisation have at times been challenging, the whole organisation has recognised the importance and the benefits for the people they’re supporting due to their experiences and the recognition of these deficits within the sector and how they have a flow-on effect for people throughout their involvement with services.