This case study has been generated by a collaborative research study of community-university partnerships. Part of the ESRC-funded Imagine Project, the study was conducted jointly by Susanne Martikke, research officer at Greater Manchester Centre for Voluntary Organisation alongside Professors Angie Hart and Andrew Church of the University of Brighton.
This project is led by Adele Jones, University of Huddersfield.
COPING was a three-year child-centred pan-European research project funded by the European Union. The research was conducted by a consortium comprising of one university and one community partner organisation each in the UK, Sweden, Germany and Romania and two umbrella organisations (Children of Prisoners Europe based in France and the Quaker United Nations Office in Switzerland). Adele Jones was the Scientific Coordinator of the study which was led by the University of Huddersfield's Centre for Applied Childhood Studies who partnered with Manchester-based charity Partners of Prisoners and Families Support Group (POPS) for the work in the UK. Most of the research carried out by the Centre is conducted in partnership with community partners.
The relationship between the University and POPS preceded the COPING collaboration as the organisation had been offering placements to the institution's Social Work students for some time. Due to the resource-intensive nature of the European bid development, POPS did not participate in designing the research, as this was conceptualised at the proposal submission stage. For POPS it was a logical decision to become a partner, because it fit in with the organisation's mission of providing support to the families of offenders.
POPS quickly moved from the periphery of the research project to becoming an indispensable partner. Because the partnership benefited from Adele's experience in community university partnership working and a very open ongoing negotiation of how to implement the project, POPS' expertise eventually began shaping the project significantly. This resulted in a re-negotiation of POPS' initial role of facilitating access to research participants at the beginning, to a role that involved POPS support at every stage of the research. To facilitate this bigger role, a greater proportion of the research funds were shifted over to POPS.
Apart from the financial benefit and the benefits for its service users and staff, POPS' participation in the project prompted it to make changes to the way it delivers its services. Rather than seeing children as an extension of their parents, children in their own right have now become front and centre of POPS' work with prisoners' families. The organisation also sees the children's perspectives as a great way of advocating for its client group. Participation in the project has opened up new horizons for staff and users alike.
Research findings are more likely to reach the right people, because of the organisation's involvement. Diane, Chief Executive of POPS, and her staff also ensured the recommendations were realistic enough to have credibility with criminal justice practitioners and policymakers and therefore more likely to make an impact. Some impacts have already been generated. In Romania, some of the POPS expertise has also made a difference by inspiring the idea for child-friendly visiting facilities.
Althought the research itself ended in November 2012, the relationships forged as part of the project both inside and outside the immediate partnership are continuing and will be in place for future opportunities. The research has influenced policy and practice (children of prisoners are now recognised by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child as one of the worlds' vulnerable groups) and their needs are being considered by governments, children's services and criminal justice systems in several countries. Widely commended, the success of this project is entirely due to the quality of the relationship between its partners and the respective skills and attributes each brought to the process.
Adele Jones, Professor of Social Work, University of Huddersfield: A.D.Jones@hud.ac.uk
Diane Curry, Chief Executive, Partners of Prisoners: firstname.lastname@example.org