Working with the voluntary sector

January 2013

Topic briefing

There are many ways in which statutory organisations can work with the voluntary and community sector (VCS) on child accident prevention, from commissioning one-off projects through to embedding child safety measures into service contracts. This briefing explores how statutory organisations can work effectively with VCS organisations, with case studies that illustrate a range of approaches.

Key issues

  • VCS organisations have a valuable role to play in helping commissioners to understand the needs of local populations and identifying gaps in services. Voluntary organisations with strong community links can be in a strong position to engage hard-to-reach audiences and drive change at a grassroots level.
  • Commissioners can encourage VCS organisations to follow best practice in safeguarding children, including the prevention of accidents, by embedding the Safe Network Standards into their tendering and contract management processes.
  • Commissioners should support voluntary and community organisations through the transition to new public health commissioning arrangements by keeping them informed about the changes taking place and any new contacts.

Policy arena

Health and Social Care Act

The Health and Social Care Act recognises the VCS as a valuable source of knowledge about the needs of local communities. It requires health and wellbeing boards to engage with the sector through the JSNA process.

Local authority commissioners

In February 2011 the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) wrote to all local authority leaders to encourage the use of voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations in the delivery of frontline services. The letter said:

“The majority of councillors and leaders recognise that these groups can play a vital role in delivering high quality and innovative front line services to the public…Voluntary groups can draw on the enthusiasm of volunteers, and the goodwill of local communities. [They] can, in many circumstances, offer good value for taxpayers’ money when commissioned to provide services.”1

The Compact

The Compact is the agreement between government and the VCS which sets out key principles for how they can work together effectively. It covers areas including policy development, funding arrangements and involvement in service delivery. The latest version of the compact was published in December 2010.

As well as the national Compact, most areas in England also have a local Compact which reflects local needs. Compact Voice represents more than 20,000 VCS organisations. Its Annual Local Compact Survey 2012 states:

“Following local Compacts has enabled local communities to benefit from greater involvement in policy design, improved reach and understanding, better commissioning and procurement, and better support for the vital role of voluntary and community sector organisations.”2

The Compact Voice website explains that one of the ways that the Compact can help public sector and voluntary organisations is by providing a framework for delivering spending cuts while minimising potential damage to the relationship between the sectors. For more information see Help with cuts – public bodies and Help with cuts – voluntary sector.

Why work with the voluntary sector?

There are many reasons why accident prevention professionals and public health commissioners might find it helpful to work with the VCS. Voluntary and community organisations may be able to offer:

  • specialist understanding of the needs of their local community or audience, including gaps in provision and barriers to engagement
  • expertise in tackling health inequalities
  • strong, trust-based relationships with their community or audience, which might include hard-to-engage groups
  • flexible and innovative approaches
  • value for money.

Approaches to working with the voluntary sector

This section uses case studies to illustrate some of the ways in which statutory organisations can work with the voluntary sector to prevent childhood unintentional injuries.

Commissioning projects or services

Case study 1: NHS Bristol and voluntary organisation Lifeskills – preventing poisoning in young children


Through examining local hospital admissions data, the Avonsafe (Bristol) team identified that overdoses of NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as paracetamol, ibuprofen and aspirin) were the leading cause of poisoning admissions among young children. This was a surprise – most parents think that bleach and other household cleaning products are the most common cause – so they decided to develop a campaign to raise awareness of the dangers.

To help day care settings like children centres and nurseries work with parents on this issue, NHS Bristol commissioned an external provider to develop and produce resources highlighting how we can prevent young children taking overdoses.


NHS Bristol investigated past poisoning prevention campaigns to see what had worked, and what had not. They used the findings to shape a contract which they put out for tender, following NHS Bristol’s procurement guidelines. At the end of the tender process, NHS Bristol awarded the contract to Bristol-based charity Lifeskills. The NHS Bristol team felt that Lifeskills’ expertise in educating children and parents about safety issues, and their track record of innovation, would bring a significant amount of value to the project.

A formal ‘memorandum of understanding’ between NHS Bristol and Lifeskills specified the outcomes that the charity had to deliver, but Lifeskills was free to play to its strengths and decide the best ways to achieve those outcomes.


The campaign resources that Lifeskills produced included posters, height charts and display banners for use in children’s centres, hospitals and other settings, as well as designing the Dangerous Doses (PDF) booklet that contains real-life stories of how local children have been, or just narrowly missed being, poisoned. Dangerous Doses was welcomed in daycare settings where staff started discussions with parents about what had happened.

Lifeskills prepared hundreds of ‘Poisoning Prevention Packs’ containing these and other items that were circulated by the Avonsafe Co-ordinators in Bath and North East Somerset, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire. You can download the resources from the Avonsafe website. Lifeskills also visited 75% of Bristol’s children’s centres and organised Bristol’s first injury prevention symposium, focusing on preventing poisoning in children.

Success factors

  • Any tendering process must follow your organisation’s guidelines on commissioning and procurement. Business managers and procurement specialists may be available to help steer you in the right direction.
  • A formal agreement specifying SMART outcomes that the provider must deliver to secure payment helps both parties, by removing the potential for misunderstanding.
  • At times commissioners may need to refer back to the scope of the work agreed at the start of the project. to make sure they're not asking more than this.
  • While it’s essential to maintain oversight on the quality of the work being produced, a ‘hands off’ approach to managing the provider can give them the space to innovate and use their expertise to achieve the specified outcomes in ways that allow them to add most value to the project.

Embedding accident prevention into contracts

Case study 2: Wiltshire County Council children’s centres


Wiltshire’s 30 children’s centres are run by four voluntary organisations: Barnado’s (2 centres), 4Children (16 centres), Spurgeons (9 centres) and The Rise Trust (3 centres). Safeguarding of children within and outside children’s centres is a high priority for Wiltshire Council. As child accident prevention is an essential part of this, it was built into the tendering process for the provision of children’s centres and is embedded into the contracts that the council holds with each provider.


Each children’s centre provider is contractually obliged to provide information and advice on child safety to service users and those in the wider community. This obligation is set out in their service requirement schedule and core objective document. The schedules of the contract relating to child safety and accident prevention are based upon the five Every Child Matters outcomes.

Contract review documentation and performance management procedures also ensure that health and safety policies are in place so that the centres demonstrate good safety practices for families. Child safety at home is included as a thread throughout the centres’ work, to meet the Ofsted requirements that children are safe and protected.


Examples of the children’s centres’ work on child accident prevention include regularly updated information and displays at the centres and other venues where they deliver services, risk assessments undertaken by outreach workers in service users’ homes, and access to fire service and home safety checks.

Success factors

  • Children’s centres should see accident prevention as integral to safeguarding. It must form part of the central core of services rather than be treated as an ‘add on’.
  • Accident prevention needs to be embedded throughout service delivery and this should be reflected in performance management criteria. Be cautious about relying on A&E or hospital admissions data alone for performance management, unless you know you have ready access to the data for the 0-5 years age group.
  • Staff working in children’s centres and in the community should be role models for keeping children safe from accidents, for example by having a policy on hot drinks and putting it into practice at all times.

Incorporating the Safe Network Standards into commissioning

Case study 3: Lincolnshire children’s services


Karen Parsons is Director of Workforce and Sector Support at the national charity Children’s Links, which is based in Lincolnshire. She also works one day a week as a regional development manager for Safe Network. Part of this role involves supporting VCS organisations to use the Safe Network Standards to put in place clear safeguarding arrangements for children and young people. The standards cover four areas of safeguarding, one of which is avoiding accidents and running safe activities and events.

Voluntary organisations can use the Safe Network Standards self-assessment tool to evaluate their safeguarding practices and follow best practice. Commissioners can include the self-assessment tool in the tendering process, so that they can obtain consistent and comprehensive information about the safeguarding practices of potential providers.

The Charities Evaluation Service has gathered feedback from a range of organisations which have used the Safe Network Standards. One VCS organisation said:

“We’ve started using the Standards and the self-assessment process. I’ve found them useful as they’re comprehensive and up-to-date and written in language that people can understand, without jargon”.


Karen presented the Safe Network Standards to Lincolnshire Safeguarding Children Board in 2011, at a time when self-assessment of safeguarding practices was high on the agenda. Section 11 of the Children Act 2004 requires statutory organisations to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. It also requires that private or voluntary organisations contracted to run services on behalf of statutory organisations take the Section 11 guidance into account. Discussions were taking place around how a sustainable form of Section 11 self-assessment would work in practice.

The board decided to endorse the Safe Network standards and encourage voluntary organisations to comply with Section 11 assessment by using the Safe Network Standards self-assessment toolkit to demonstrate their safe practices. Karen and Lincolnshire Safeguarding Children Board met with the commissioning lead for Lincolnshire County Council’s children and young people’s services, to introduce the Safe Network Standards and show how they could be used in commissioning and grant giving.


The Lincolnshire children’s services commissioning team endorsed the Safe Network Standards and embedded them into their commissioning process. The updated tender specifications state that organisations carrying out work on behalf of Lincolnshire’s children’s services must provide evidence of their organisational self-assessment. Organisations are signposted to the Safe Network Standards self-assessment toolkit. The quarterly contract monitoring process also requires providers to produce evidence to back up their self-assessment responses.

Success factors

  • Embedding the Safe Network Standards into each stage of the commissioning process, from invitation to tender through to quarterly monitoring, ensures that the approach is sustainable and supports voluntary organisations to develop and maintain high standards for safeguarding and child protection.

Grassroots community engagement

Case study 4: Bradford Council and the B-Moor Together community group – improving road safety at a neighbourhood level


Bradford Council had successfully bid for government funding to deliver innovative approaches to tackling the link between childhood injury and deprivation. In 2005, Bradford Council tasked Simon D’Vali (then an independent consultant, now employed by the council as principal engineer for highways) to lead a project to engage community groups in improving child safety in their neighbourhoods.

The council had already supported different communities within the city to establish neighbourhood groups, where local people came together to deal with issues ranging from housing to highways. Road safety was a top priority for many neighbourhoods, including the inner-city area of Bradford Moor.


Simon met with the Bradford Moor Community Safety Group to engage local people in the idea of working together to improve road safety. The ‘B-Moor Together’ working group was then set up to explore local road safety problems in more detail and come up with solutions to tackle them. They had £1.12 million of external funding to spend on improving road safety, to be delivered through local authority services.

One particular issue was that local children were playing in the streets surrounding Bradford Moor Park, rather than in the park itself. This was down to a combination of factors, including a lack of crossing facilities to reach the park safely, and anti-social behaviour within the park. The result was a high level of unintentional childhood injuries occurring in the area around the park.

B-Moor Together consulted with local school children to find ways to make the park a safe place for them to play. The project also engaged a wide range of stakeholders, including the local authority’s highways, parks and landscapes, and leisure services teams, as well as the health service and the Bradford Moor Sure Start children’s centre.


Bradford Council and B-Moor achieved improvements including:

  • pedestrian crossings at a dangerous junction used by 900 school children every morning and afternoon
  • traffic calming measures and lower speed limits on busy roads
  • regeneration of the local park with improvements to footpaths, lighting and fencing, plus new play equipment chosen by local school children
  • educating parents about road safety, through the children’s centre
  • encouraging use of child car seats and booster seats by offering low-income families the chance to buy one for £10 after completing a road and in-car safety training course at the children’s centre.

Success factors

  • Engaging community leaders is critical to understanding local problems and coming up with solutions. Attending neighbourhood forum meetings is a good place to find local people who have a desire to see change and want to be involved in making it happen.
  • When investing in neighbourhood improvements such as traffic calming features or play equipment, it’s important to plan for the long- term financial sustainability of the new assets.
  • Trust is absolutely critical and can take time to develop – it may be necessary to attend meetings or workshops in the evenings or to make yourself available for phonecalls outside of usual working hours.

How Making the Link can help you

Making the Link is here to support people with a role to play in child accident prevention throughout England. We recognise that effective child accident prevention programmes and strategies happen through successful partnership working.

We’d like to hear about the work you’re doing in your area and what’s worked well, so that we can share the information with other professionals on the Making the Link site.

Email us at to:

  • submit case studies about your child accident prevention work
  • suggest ideas for Making the Link resources that you would find helpful
  • find out more about the project or any of the information on our website. 

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Useful links

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External links

Download this topic briefing as a PDF

Notes for this feature

  1. Letter from Greg Clark to local authority leaders: supporting the voluntary sector and small firms, Department for Communities and Local Government, 4 February 2011.
  2. Safe Network Achievement Report – Highlights, Safe Network, October 2012. Full report expected to be published in December 2012 at 
Updated December 2013