West London Zone (WLZ) is a partnership of government, schools and charities that aims to prevent underprivileged children and young people from slipping through the cracks by providing tailored support packages. They pool data from their partners and carry out their own research to identify children who are at risk of future unemployment, addiction, debt and crime. Through “Link Workers” placed in local schools, they design individualised support packages for each child and marshal the community’s resources to fulfil them. The financing model is a version of the social impact bond: the progress of each child is monitored and when certain milestones are hit, WLZ is paid by public and private backers.
Results & Impact
West London Zone carried out a pilot to test their delivery model in 2015. After six months, 36 students showed fewer risk indicators, 55 stayed the same and 20 declined. Improvements were variously seen in literacy and numeracy, communication, physical development, and personal, social and emotional development. The data set and length of the pilot were small - it was intended to test delivery, not outcomes - but the results seem to point to a positive relationship between higher attendance at support sessions, higher Link Worker engagement, and a reduction in risk factors. Some studies put the proportion of at-risk children at 20% of the school age population.
West London Zone, local authorities, central government, local charities, private philanthropists, Dartington Social Research Unit, local children’s centres and schools
The program can be divided into three steps: identification, support, and monitoring. West London Zone start by pooling data from charities, schools, health institutions and local authorities. Then they do their own research, giving children a self-reported survey to fill in at school which focuses on more subjective measures, such as emotional well-being and engagement with school. Put together, this dataset is used for risk factor analysis based on findings from longitudinal studies that have shown correlations between circumstances in childhood and those in adulthood. Once the at-risk children have been identified, support begins. "Link Workers" placed in local schools are the key: they get to know each child, their strengths and aspirations, and put together a bespoke package of support by drawing on the resources of local charities. This can include a wide range of activities, from reading lessons to gardening, to sports and therapeutic counselling. Then there is a data infrastructure in place to track the progress that the children are making. This, in turn, drives the financing model which is a version of a social impact bond. Based on the results for each individual child, West London Zone is reimbursed by four different sources: the local authority, the child’s school, a local philanthropist, and central government.
Cost & Value
Running since 2015
West London Zone partners with local authorities, schools and over 20 charities. With so many stakeholders, lining up delivery is a considerable challenge. To address this, they took their time beforehand, doing lots of consultation and then testing the program’s delivery with a pilot model funded through philanthropy. Regarding scaling their program, their approach is very much place-based—something which would not necessarily sit comfortably with a centrally driven expansion of the project. How West London Zone would be involved in any replication of its program remains to be discussed.
They started working with three schools in West London, now they are working with 12. The project was inspired by similar work in New York by the Harlem Children’s Zone.
West London Zone (WLZ) aims to stop disadvantaged children and young people slipping through the cracks by providing long-term bespoke support packages on a child-by-child basis.
WLZ is a public-private partnership based on the principles of Collective Impact. It has brought together central and local government, schools and charities to design a cradle-to-career program to support children and young people at risk of, for example, unemployment, addiction, debt and crime.
Their approach is one of reform and coordination: many of the resources to help these children already exist, but they need better direction.
“There are a lot of social assets in the community that can help children, but they are not well coordinated or connected with each other—and they are disconnected from the public system and infrastructure too, including schools and local authorities,” said Nigel Ball, Chief Development Officer at West London Zone.
“We got very interested in working in a place-based way, focussing on a particular neighbourhood and changing it over the long-term by providing a continual presence and service to children who grow up there,” said Ball. “There were lots available for children and young people, but somehow it wasn’t reaching them. We weren’t very good at identifying the people who went on to go off track.”
WLZ sought to address this by bringing greater rigour to bear on the problem of identifying at-risk children.
“We do a lot of data analysis. We pool the facts from charities, schools, health institutions and local authorities, and we do some of our own data collection—we have a self-reported survey that we ask them to fill in at their school. This focuses on areas where quantitative data is often lacking: peer relationships, emotional well-being, home environment, engagement with school,” said Ball.
“This gives us a data set and then we can do a risk factor analysis based on the longitudinal studies that show correlations between circumstances in childhood and circumstances in adulthood. That way we can find the children who are at risk, and they are the ones we should focus on.”
Once the children have been identified, the support program begins. WLZ pulls together community resources through its partnerships with local and national charities. They provide a wide range of activities, from reading lessons to gardening, from sports to therapeutic counselling. First, though, they speak with every child and the people around them to build a picture of their strengths, needs and aspirations.
“This work is done by a ‘Link Worker’. The families we work with are not necessarily those that will opt into this sort of program—and even if they did, they are not necessarily the ones that will keep up with it. So we have Link Workers placed in each school whose job is to really get to know the child, to design the support package, and to be a continual, trusted presence that motivates them throughout the journey. And the other side of their role is to coordinate the interaction of the charities with the school. The Link Worker is a critical piece of the puzzle,” said Ball.
The final aspect of the program is performance monitoring. WLZ monitors the day-to-day performance of their Link Workers and the charities, and they also track the progress that every child is making. And that, crucially, drives the financing model.
“Our financing model is a version of a social impact bond. Based on the results we receive for each individual child we receive a payment from four different sources when that child reaches certain milestones. Those four sources are the local authority, the child’s school, a local philanthropist, and central government,” said Ball.
This tripartite approach to supporting disadvantaged children – identification, support and monitoring – saw an early test run in WLZ’s pilot study in 2015.
“The pilot was intended to test the delivery model: to gauge whether it was practical to have Link Workers in schools, pulling together a tailored package of support for individual children. In the end, it was only six months of work, so we didn’t really expect to make a massive difference to outcomes in that time, particularly when we were still learning how to make it work. But we did actually see some gratifying results,” said Ball.
The cohort for the pilot included 118 students from three institutions: a children’s centre, a primary academy and a secondary school. After six months, 36 students showed fewer risk indicators, 55 stayed the same and 20 showed more. The results were far from uniform, but some improvements were seen in literacy and numeracy, communication, physical development, and personal, social and emotional development. Overall, the results seemed to point to a positive relationship between higher attendance at support sessions, higher Link Worker engagement, and a reduction in risk factors.
Another thing that emerged was the effort required to coordinate all the many stakeholders. WLZ works with over 20 charities and has multiple commissioners, including central government, local authorities, schools, and various philanthropists. They were in the fortunate position of being able to take their time, doing a lot of consultation and having a pilot funded through philanthropy, but even so it was a challenge.
Still, the dataset from the pilot was limited in size and duration, so it remains to be seen whether this new approach will have the desired effect on outcomes. Similar and successful work has been done by Harlem Children’s Zone in New York, but nothing exactly the same. So WLZ is taking an experimental mindset.
“What we are trying to do is prove or disprove a number of hypotheses and new approaches for delivering early intervention in an environment of falling resources. Every city in the UK, and I imagine this would be true elsewhere in the world, has community assets that you can draw on to help the children that grow up there. We still have to prove that it results in better outcomes, and obviously, that is a long-term process. But after that we will look at scaling and replicating it,” said Ball.
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