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February 22, 2012

Over professionalised communities

Keep it simple.  That’s the message from one of Scotland’s most respected policemen.  John Carnochan has been to the fore of many initiatives aimed at tackling Scotland’s culture of youth violence and he thinks the whole business has become over professionalised. He argues against more development workers being sent into communities and instead for local people to be given the resources they need so that these communities can begin to do things for themselves.



Sunday Herald

Detective Chief Superintendent John Carnochan, co-director of the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit, says attempts to tackle society’s problems have become “over-professionalised” in recent years.

He said it was important to provide support to parents and focus on improving children’s lives in the first few years, but cautioned that sending in more workers was not the answer.

“The truth of the matter is we have got enough professionals doing this,” he said. “I would much rather start to see communities moving towards doing things for themselves, so we don’t have community development workers or this or that support worker.”

Carnochan said residents in communities did not often have enough influence in decision which affect their lives, such as the opening times of community centres or schools.

“They might say we would like the school open at 6am in the morning so we can run a breakfast club,” he said.

“Or they might say we would like the school open at night, so our kids can go and play in the playground in there, and it’s safe and we have got a couple of dads who will supervise that. 

“They don’t need any money. They just need you to open the gate for them. It is about people in communities doing things, as opposed to coming home at night, closing their front doors and that’s it.”

He said more support had to be given to “great” voluntary groups which have started in many areas, particularly in deprived communities.

But Carnochan added: “I don’t mean we turn them into professional organisations with evaluations and outcome plans and project initiation documents and business managers – we don’t need that. 

“If there are 10 or 12 young guys who want to play football and a couple of dads who want to help them do that, great, what do they need? Do they need £50 to buy football strips or orange juice every night? Do we need to let them into the school for nothing to do it? We don’t need the big things.”

Carnochan also argues there has been too much emphasis on “value for money” when evaluating the work which has been carried out by professionals such as health visitors and social workers.

“What we seem to have done over the past 20 to 30 years is we have tried to apply business models to everything,” he said. “So what has happened is the only way we value things is about how much they cost. 

“It is not just about that – you can’t say how long a health visitor will need to work with somebody before they establish a relationship, or how long a social worker will need to work with a family to get an established relationship and get results.

“With some it might be an hour, with others it might be two months, and it is that idea we need to understand.

“It is not to say we don’t have to account for every penny we spend –we absolutely must – but we need to be smarter about how we measure value.”

Carnochan made his comments ahead of a major conference on parenting hosted by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde last week. The three-day event brought together specialists from around the world to discuss the effects of positive parenting and the growing focus on the importance of the early years of a child’s life. 

Peter Taylor, organiser of network body Community Development Alliance Scotland, said listening to communities was already a core aspect of such work and there was increasing emphasis on the building of strong communities to help deal with problems such as violence.

“Clearly there are things which we would like people across a whole range of services and voluntary organisations to get better at, such as listening to people, helping them to develop, and perhaps that has been lost sight of in some services,” he added.

“But I don’t think the actual core of community workers that do exist have ever lost sight of those approaches.”