Sophie Whitehouse - 2017 blog posts archive
Lead for Early Help and Wellbeing
Sophie has stopped her weekly postings, but you can still read her stories here ...
Sophie Whitehouse is the Early Help and Wellbeing Lead, based in the Communities and Wellbeing Team. Sophie's job is to develop strategies and initiatives to keep the community safe and reduce vulnerability.
Sophie has 22 years public and voluntary sector experience, mainly working in criminal justice and crime reduction services. She has lived in Worthing for 12 years.
You can read Sophie's archived 2017 blog posts on this page below:
So this is my tenth and final weekly blog (for now). I have really enjoyed writing the blogs and have hopefully shown you all the initiatives, projects and day to day work we carry out to try and make Adur and Worthing safer places to live, work and visit.
I hope by showcasing some of the work, I have given an insight, not just into the work of Adur & Worthing Councils but also how we work with partners.
You may have seen in the press and social media this week, the news that two young women received Criminal Behaviour Orders (Sussex Police) that prevent them from associating with each other and being in Worthing town centre. Sussex Police have spent several months gathering evidence and have made several court appearances to secure these orders.
This week I was asked to support PC Luff at court, at the final hearing. We knew we didn't want to leave court without the orders but with two experienced defence solicitors with other ideas, it wasn't going to be easy!
After some lengthy and shall we say, tense negotiations, we entered court fairly confident that we had a strong case for getting the orders. Luckily we were right.
We knew this result was important for all the people and businesses who had been affected by the antisocial behaviour and it would have felt awful if we had to tell them that we weren't successful.
It was definitely one of those days where I went home feeling satisfied that I had helped get a good outcome for the community.
This week we also arranged a short training session for the police community support officers who have recently joined Sussex Police.
We have been working with some of the officers for many years - we know exactly how we can help each other out and why it is important to share information.
It was good for everyone to spend time going back over how and why we work in the way we do and what can happen if we don't share information at the right time, in the right way.
I hope that through these blogs, I have shown how important the community is too, in sharing the information that helps us do our jobs.
Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to read these blogs - I have been pleasantly surprised by the amount of people who have approached me in the street to comment on one blog or another. My friend even told me he was able to talk about cuckoo-ing in a work training session after reading one!
I hope to be back in the future, with lots of new ideas and initiatives to talk about, in the meantime, if you're ever in doubt about reporting or sharing something that your instinct isn't happy with - don't delay, do it!
Rachel the Anti Social Behaviour Caseworker is taking a much-deserved holiday at the moment. This means that for the last week, I have been picking up any new cases that have come in and taking care of any queries that come in about existing cases.
Usually, I oversee Rachel's casework, suggesting ways to approach a case, double checking the legal aspects and and agreeing which steps to take but it's very light touch. Rachel really knows her stuff after 12 years! This week, though, it's been back to the shop floor so to speak.
On Tuesday, I had a new ASB complaint come in via the online reporting system. I can't say too much about the facts of the case but it involves some quite nasty behaviour that affects a young family on a daily basis, and involves several different issues that will need a real joined up approach with partners.
My first step is to contact the person who has made the report. Seems straightforward enough but you never know how distressed someone might be, if they are going to tell you something that you have a duty to pass on, for example if someone's safety is at risk. They might be angry and frustrated and that might mean they shout.
So, I made that important first call and set about gathering some more details about what is going on. I also have to be mindful to ensure that I am clear about what we can and can't do in a situation - the last thing I want to do on top of everything else that is going on, is leave someone feeling let down by our service. In this case, we agreed an action plan together. I wanted to make sure that the complainant was comfortable with my suggestions and that anything we do, doesn't make the situation worse for the family.
So, the first step is to understand the extent of the problem. As I said in a previous blog, it has to be a pattern of behaviour and is has to be affecting the community so we agreed that we would letter drop the other houses nearby to see what they have witnessed.
We discussed involving the PCSOs but our complainant felt that this could make things worse so agreed that he would report online to Sussex Police so that there is a record.
During our conversation, I assessed the risk to work out if there was something about the case that made it higher risk than other cases we deal with. I decided that the details I had been told did indeed make it slightly higher risk so we also agreed that I would refer the case to the Anti Social Risk Assessment Conference (ASBRAC), a monthly meeting that looks at such cases. Several agencies attend and we all work together to put a plan together to reduce the risks.
By the end of the call, we had agreed a plan of action which I will pass on to Rachel when she is back. It isn't very often that I get to work directly with clients anymore so I am glad that I had the opportunity this week to hear first hand about the issues affecting our community and appreciate the difficult job that Rachel does everyday.
This week I thought I would talk a little bit more about partnership working as it really is the key to resolving some of the trickiest issues our communities face.
The Crime and Disorder Act compels agencies to work together to reduce crime and disorder. But if we are really going to be creative, we have to go beyond the obvious partners, such as police and social care and really think about the resources we have in our community that can play a part in keeping people safe and well.
Take, for example, young people causing anti social behaviour in parks. There are different ways to come at this: a zero tolerance approach, increasing policing, gathering evidence to take enforcement action. Or, thinking about the causes of such behaviour and trying to address those alongside policing.
Underage drinking and drug use can make parks seems like a 'no go' area.
We have just commissioned Change, Grow, Live ( CGL), to deliver outreach in parks and skate parks- they are talking to young people, encouraging them to think about their behaviour and how they might spend their time differently.
Electric Storm, a youth group in Lancing are also out and about, finding out what young people want to do and providing alternatives.
Meeting people in the places they spend time, whether it is young people or the street community, can be the start of a relationship that changes someone's life.
Showing an interest in them, listening to their hopes, dreams and worries and then connecting them to other organisations is an important role we play.
Our staff have an amazing amount of knowledge about local organisations and services on offer. We have played a part in helping people find work experience, courses, counselling, volunteering, hobbies, companionship ... the list is endless.
It might not seem like an obvious role for a council to play but thinking of longer term solutions to problems makes sense.
A couple of years ago, Rachel, the anti-social behaviour caseworker was dealing with a long running case of anti-social behaviour.
This involved a disagreement between households that escalated to verbal abuse, threats and a large number of accusations. It got to the point where those involved were watching the every move of the people around them and tolerance was at an all time low.
People can become very focused on their situation and in particular for someone who is at home a lot, it can become all consuming.
Rachel was able to link this person up with a volunteering opportunity, which meant they were thinking less about their situation and the complaints died down.
People often think that finding someone a home will mean that they are no longer part of the street community but if they are lonely,isolated or just bored, they may head back to that lifestyle.
Our street outreach worker uses community resources to try and prevent that happening - supporting someone to access a knitting group, negotiating a gym membership, generally supporting them to be a part of the wider community - it all contributes to making long term changes.
We are lucky that Adur and Worthing are home to such varied, innovative and supportive community resources and I would like to take this opportunity to say a heartfelt thank you to all those who give their time and expertise to provide these.
We really couldn't do what we do without you!
Photo: 2017-08-29 - Electric Storm Youth
Photo: Change, Grow, Live
This week I returned from a blissful two weeks off to a very full inbox. Skimming through my emails, it really gave a snap shot of the huge variety of work our team gets involved in. There were emails about anti social behaviour, homelessness, community events, health initiatives, ideas for new projects, training opportunities ...
Prioritising these emails can be difficult but the most urgent are always those that contain information about vulnerable individuals; those that might come to harm without some help. Sometimes this can be urgent, in which case we need to ask the police or Social Care to intervene but sometimes, it is a bit less obvious about what the risks might be.
We have recently been made aware of a growing type of crime called 'cuckoo-ing'. This is where an individual or gang take over the property of someone isolated or vulnerable - someone with a learning disability or mental health issues or maybe just lonely. They use the property to deal drugs out of sight.
Unfortunately, we have seen a few cases of this recently. My emails this week, revealed two new possible cases. We have to be quick to put measures in place with our partners to protect people at the earliest opportunity.
Part of the battle is understanding whether someone is being 'cuckoo-ed' in the first place. Usually it is the neighbours who bring it to our attention first of all - large numbers of visitors to the property at all times of the day and night, increased noise ... Working out whether someone is being taken advantage of or whether they are causing anti-social behaviour is vital as it means the difference between working with them as a victim or perpetrator.
For the victim, they often believe these people are their friends - they might be getting something in return - money, food, company ... On the nastier side, they might be facing violence and threats that prevent them asking for help.
As you can imagine, this is a complex situation that means working with several partners- police, mental health services, social care, housing providers. We often have different perspectives on the problem and trying to balance protecting people with meeting the needs of the wider community, can be tricky.
So what can we do in these situations? First off, disrupting the activity can send a clear message- Police Community Support Officers and other professionals dropping in to check on someone can be enough to make the dealers' lives difficult. At the other end of the spectrum, we have used a 'Closure Order' - asking the court to prevent access to the property, effectively closing the property down. We have only used it once, the level of evidence required is substantial and it is not a cheap option. It is a measure we have to use sparingly.
There will always be people who exploit the vulnerable for their own gains. Thankfully, we only see a handful of these crimes in Adur and Worthing but I am confident that we have already established a quick and effective response for these victims.
As always, if you see something that concerns you, report it in - you can be the difference!
Photo: a handful of drugs and tablets (from Pexels)
Last week I mentioned how a passing comment from a colleague in West Sussex Fire and Rescue led to a whole programme of work. Well, that was two years ago and the Behind Closed Doors initiative has been one of my most rewarding pieces of work.
“We see so much when we go into people's houses, it would be great if we could do something with that information”. This was the comment and it got me thinking about all the officials and professionals that visit people in their homes, what they see and how they can help keep them safe and well.
Behind Closed Doors is now two years old and we have delivered two conferences and we are now half way through a series of smaller, bite sized learning events for 2017/18. We aim to raise awareness of the crimes that can happen in people's homes and can be harder to spot.
Our conferences have covered a range of issues - scams and fraud, human trafficking, domestic abuse, child sexual exploitation, gang recruitment, sexting and consent, radicalisation, child to parent abuse ...
I spend a lot of time finding just the right speakers to bring these subjects to life. Last year, Junior Smart MBE talked of his experience of being recruited into a gang and the year before, we had everyone in tears, hearing from a survivor of human trafficking.
I am in the midst of planning the next two sessions. I am in contact with the Elder Abuse Recovery Service as this is a topic I would like to raise awareness around. It's early days but it looks like I might also have someone who suffered elder abuse who is willing to share their story.
We have a range of people who come to our events: social workers, housing officers, fire officers, police - it is great that there is a real appetite for learning how to spot and offer support for these crimes. But, there is more to do, more people to reach who can help spot these signs - carers, mobile hairdressers, builders ... It is hard to get them along to these events as we are asking them to take time out from being paid so still figuring that one out ...
I was heartened to hear that one of our refuse workers had spotted someone vulnerable whilst out and about on their rounds and reported it in. Last year I heard that two maintenance workers helped a victim of domestic abuse after attending to fix a window that had been broken by the perpetrator.
Some crimes are harder to spot so that is why it is so important that we continue to deliver this work- those who take advantage of the most vulnerable and isolated can only be stopped if those who can raise the alarm, know what they are looking for and where to go for help.
I will leave you with this video from our 2015 conference. It is my friend Kadie, the survivor of human trafficking who bravely shared her story and an important message. Grab your tissues, it's emotional ...
There are three things I love about my job: watching an idea turn into a project; linking up people to make change happen; and making a difference in people's lives. When all three come together, well let's just say I get very excited!
The last few weeks have given me plenty of cause for excitement. I have been out and about making links with organisations and researching new ideas to see how they can fit into our work.
A meeting with Surrey and Sussex Rape Crisis has got me thinking about how they could extend their services in Adur and Worthing.
The training with AVA helped me understand the trauma caused by sexual violence and then, another piece of the puzzle: a chat with April from Worthing Churches Homeless Project about women in the street community and I have the beginnings of a plan...
There is so much ground breaking work going on in Adur and Worthing.
I am part of a project led by Worthing Churches Homeless Project that is taking a more intensive approach to working with the street community.
During the project we will learn much more about what works and what doesn't in supporting people to make changes. If you are homeless, one of the big barriers to accommodation, is being part of a couple. I am also part of an advisory panel to support Brighton Women's Centre carry out research into this area.
I have a particular interest in women's issues.
My professional background has included supporting the families of women in Holloway prison, managing domestic abuse services and serving as a trustee at local charity Safe In Sussex. I recently stepped down from this role but for good reason - in my council role I helped secure government funding for the charity.
Safe In Sussex is opening a new refuge and this money means women who find it hard to access a refuge because of mental health or substance use, will be able to do so.
The new refuge is different because it is not in a secret location and is the first of it's kind in the UK. It opens up options for some of the women we work with that have previously not been possible.
An important part of my role is to think about innovative ways to respond to social issues.
I use social media to keep up with new projects and different ways of doing things. I also consult with other areas to see what's worked for them. I've even been known to harass people internationally if I like the sound of their work!
One of the best things about working in the Communities and Wellbeing Team, is knowing that when I start a sentence “I've had an idea...” (which my colleagues will tell you is annoyingly often), people listen and volunteer to get involved.
Next week, I look forward to telling you about how a chance comment from a Fire Service colleague spawned a whole programme of work....
Photo credit: Worthing Churches Homeless Project
This week I would like to introduce you to two more members of the team - Carl Sutherland is our Street Outreach Worker and Jim McSpirit is a volunteer who works alongside Carl.
Whilst most people are just waking up, Carl and Jim are pounding the streets of Adur and Worthing, talking to people who are sleeping rough and others who spend a lot of time on the street.
Over the summer in particular, lots of people get in touch about the street community and it's a real mixture - some people want to know what they can do to help, others are letting us know that they are have spotted someone sleeping rough and there are also complaints about anti social behaviour.
Carl and Jim are often the first people to speak to someone who is on the streets.
This week, following tip offs from our Parks and Foreshore colleagues, they have been following up on reports of people sleeping in tents in various locations.
People come to the streets for lots of reasons but one thing they all have in common, is often difficulties and trauma in their lives so this first contact has to be handled sensitively.
There is often a lot of mistrust and fear of strangers but Carl and Jim have a compassionate and respectful approach that seems to work and is an important first step in supporting people to access help.
Lots of people know about the work of Worthing Churches Homeless Project and we are lucky to work closely with the knowledgeable and enthusiastic team there.
Where Carl and Jim come into their own is working with the hardest to reach of our street community - those who are so scared, traumatised or chaotic that they are not yet ready to uses the services on offer.
Carl and Jim stay beside these people, talking to them and building a rapport out on the streets until they are ready to seek help and when they are, Carl and Jim will still be right beside them.
Today, like every Tuesday, Carl and Jim will be also be running an open access drop in at Storm Ministries.
The idea is to provide respite from the streets but also with colleagues from Housing Solutions and 'Change, Grow, Live' there so if someone wants to take those first steps to change, they can do that too..
Understanding how trauma can prevent someone from making changes is a growing part of our work and last week I was delighted to host a learning event with Against Violence and Abuse (AVA).
It was an inspiring day and left us all feeling motivated and full of ideas.
I had a lovely follow up email from AVA which said they were bowled over the the skills and enthusiasm here in Adur and Worthing, with an offer to work more closely with us so I'm excited to see where that takes us.
It's a difficult job and I am very proud of the work they do. And yes, Carl really is that smiley all the time!
Photo: Carl Sutherland and Jim McSpirit - Street Outreach
Photo: AVA Learning event
When the sun comes out, the number of complaints we receive about anti-social behaviour always goes up.
Noisy barbecues, parties, young people gathering in parks, people drinking on the seafront... I am sure this sounds familiar to lots of residents of Adur and Worthing.
But, when is anti-social behaviour not anti-social behaviour?
This is what my team and other council colleagues have to decide when asked to intervene in these situations.
We all live every close to each other which quite often throws up problems when we choose to live a different lifestyle to those around us.
A loud social gathering in a street full of families is one thing but if it is in a quiet close of mainly elderly residents, it can seem scary and intimidating.
We have to ask - how often is it happening? Is someone being targeted? It is an unreasonable way to behave? How many people does it affect?
Anti social behaviour means there is a pattern. A one-off party / bonfire / noisy DIY session might be annoying, but if it is not a pattern, we are very limited in what we can do.
At the other end of the spectrum though, there is behaviour that makes people feel scared, unsafe in their own homes and unable to use public spaces.
In this situation there is quite a bit we can do and, if our team can't, we will bring everyone together to see who can.
Our colleagues in Public Health and Regulation deal with noise nuisance and we quite often jointly work a case to bring about the best solution.
We are based in Worthing police station and sharing that information with our Sussex Police colleagues means we can take really swift action.
Sometimes a few words of advice from a PCSO can nip a problem in the bud.
We also work with local housing providers who are invaluable in taking a joined up approach in solving local problems.
For most people a warning letter or a visit from our team and colleagues will put an end to the behaviour. But in a small minority of cases, we have to take things further and use our powers of enforcement.
We have powers that can restrict people's actions, require them to take certain action and even end in a fairly hefty fine or even prison when they don't.
We have to use these powers carefully because if we get to court and our case is not water tight, the judge will throw it out and we will get a flea in our ear for wasting their time.
Rachel, our ASB Caseworker, dealt with over 80 cases of ASB last year and I am pleased to say all but a handful were resolved without the need to take enforcement action.
Over the coming weeks, I will talk about some of the specific ways we approach these problems.
If you feel that you are experiencing anti-social behaviour please do contact the team.
You can report anti-social behaviour online - or phone our reporting line 01273 263356.
The recent BBC drama 'Three Girls' has brought the serious issue of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) under the spotlight.
The drama depicted the true events of the Rotherham scandal where several agencies failed to act to reports of the sexual abuse and exploitation of teenage girls.
While this drama was set in the North of England, child sexual exploitation happens in every town and city in the country and so I am part of a programme of work to try and raise awareness across Adur and Worthing.
Last week, I delivered training to 70 taxi drivers to show them how to spot the signs of CSE and by the end of August we will have trained all 500 taxi drivers in Adur and Worthing,
So why taxi drivers? Let me explain a little bit about the approach we are taking...
Contextual safeguarding is an approach that tries to make the whole community safer for people to be in.
This means that we think about how people spend time in their community and then look at who can be part of making those spaces safer.
With this approach, it means that it is not just the young person who is responsible for keeping themselves safe, it's the whole 'It take a village to raise a child' philosophy.
With CSE, we are trying to raise awareness with all those who might be able to spot a young person at risk.
Taxi drivers are out and about at all times of the day and night, they are at train stations, bars, private addresses, hotels; they are the eyes and ears of our towns.
Also as part of this approach we have worked with West Sussex County Council and Barnardos to train local hoteliers and holiday accommodation providers to spot and report suspicious activities in their premises.
We have already received information from those who attended this training which has played an important part in a police investigation.
Next on my list: parks staff, leisure centre staff, youth groups, sports leaders, skate park users and fast food outlets.
We know from previous cases that there are always missed opportunities.
Our message is quite simple: If you see something, say something.
Little bits of information help build a picture and that it is sometimes the smallest piece of information that stops someone coming to harm.
I am really passionate about this work. I have a 13 year old daughter who is just starting to socialise with her friends (and push some boundaries!) so it is in my personal interest too; to know that when her and friends are hanging out, her community is looking out for her and is ready to speak up if she is in a risky situation.
If you would like to learn more about Child Sexual Exploitation, you can do so on the Barnado's website.
Remember, always dial 999 if you think a person is at immediate risk of harm.
In the meantime, if you think your group or organisation might be interested in receiving CSE training, please do get in touch.
Hi, I'm Sophie Whitehouse and I'm the Councils' Lead for Early Help and Wellbeing. So what does that actually mean?
If I had to sum it up, I'd say my job is to work with partners to put measures in place as early as possible that stop people from coming to harm. This might mean developing initiatives within the community or working with people directly, such as victims or perpetrators of anti-social behaviour.
My role changes according to trends in crime and also legislation. Some of the other areas I get involved in are tackling child sexual exploitation, modern day slavery, extremism and issues related to the street community. That's not to say these are happening all the time in Adur and Worthing, but my role is to make sure the Councils and the community know the signs and what to do if they see them.
Being able to spot potential issues is also important and we work with schools, residents and community groups to hear what affects them and what they need to feel safer.
Working with the rest of the Communities and Wellbeing Team, we are delivering a programme of work that responds to these issues and also looks at improving wellbeing overall.
Adur and Worthing are among the safest places to live in the country and knowing how to spot problems and tackle them early helps to keep it that way.
I'm really looking forward to sharing an insight into how we tackle some of these issues and how we work with council colleagues and partners. This will hopefully show you how members of the community can help to keep each other safe.
Photo: Multi-agency street briefing with the Sussex Police, Worthing Homes and West Sussex Fire and Rescue to hear residents' concerns
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Page last updated: 16 December 2019