57. Neighbourhood children’s services
57.1. Short description
The fourth case we are analysing in Pamplona is a group of neighbourhood associations that carry out social activities aimed at the prevention of social problems amongst children. It is the result of a movement of community associations that developed leisure activities for children and of its integration into the local government structure of social services, while retaining a peculiar way of working.
The first of these associations, Umetxea, was created in 1990. Umetxea tried to keep a balance between their traditional political role of claiming for more and better services in their neighbourhood and a new role as service providers. They tried to create social and cultural projects, mostly aimed at children, pooling the resources of several neighbourhood groups. These projects became quite successful. By 1995 some people in the local social services began to see that these associations were more successful in this field than their own public prevention programmes, which many people in the neighbourhoods thought quite useless.
The neighbourhood associations have been suspected of possible sympathies with radical left-wing parties and radical Basque nationalism, which, in the context of political violence and of a serious political cleavage between Basque nationalism and Navarrese regionalism, certainly hasn’t made relationships easy. Somewhat surprisingly, it was a centre-right regionalist councillor who decided to establish a long–term agreement between the municipality and the associations. Although there was a strong and politicised debate, in the end the councillor said that “they work fine and they’re much less expensive than other providers”.
Since 1995 in one neighbourhood and since 1997 in another three, these associations are responsible for the so-called Community Preventive Action Service, a part of the local Family and Children Welfare Programme. The typical activities of such a programme are leisure activities for different groups of children, including activity groups and playgrounds for the youngest, summer camps, neighbourhood festivals and networking amongst teenagers. In some cases it has meant not encouraging but supporting and accompanying actions like the squatting of an abandoned factory.
The future of the programme has been unclear for several months now. The agreements established in 1995–7 ended in 2012. Since the late 1990s the local council has favoured private providers that fit better into an entrepreneurial model, with whom they agree specific outcomes and targets in a much more managerial way. Nevertheless, the TSOs have been able to win in 2013 the tender that may allow them to run the programme for up to eight years. The existing TSOs are much more flexible, they are able to mobilise many more local resources, but they do so by being less hierarchic and formal in their relationship with the local government.
57.2. Conceptions and ways of addressing users
The traditional boundaries between practitioners and service users are somewhat blurred in these projects. There are certainly practitioners who are paid for their job and are bound by a contract with the local council, but they are neighbours as well, and they are hired by a local neighbourhood association. Since they organise activities for the young and for children, a large part of the actual implementation of the project is done by volunteer neighbours who take part in the activities (thus they are service users and producers at the same time). And although some specific work is done to integrate children with special difficulties in the activities, there’s no visible difference between them and other participants.
In our projects volunteers are as important as professional practitioners. Volunteers are not of the kind that show up for an hour, but people who live here. (…) We promote the rights of the kids, so the kids are our bosses. They [the local government managers] don’t think in terms of rights, they told us “don’t talk about rights, talk about problems and needs”.
(Alberto Jauregui, Equipos comunitarios de infancia)
The concept of neighbourhood is central to the work of these projects. Even if neighbourhoods are relatively small, the feeling of belonging may be very strong, and it is very significant for newcomers (migrants) as well.
In Pamplona the question of locality is very important. Whoever hasn’t experienced it and doesn’t know a neighbourhood has a citywide outlook. That’s what happens to local councillors, (…) who don’t know about it and don’t understand it. If you take away the idea of neighbourhood from these kids you’ll kill them. For migrants, their only identity here is that of the neighbourhood. They’re neither from Pamplona nor from Spain, but they’re certainly from San Jorge [the name of one of the neighbourhoods].
The project works specifically with children with special needs both integrating them into activities and offering personal support and “accompaniment”. This role is different from the one played by ordinary child support services, which should be seen as different and separated. “[Control and support] should be separated, not only conceptually but in practice as well. Our space should be a space to look ahead, and theirs as a space of protection if the children’s rights are being violated” (A. Jaúregui).
57.3. Internal organisation and modes of working
The concept of working to promote the rights of children appears to be connected to the concept of autonomy of the projects, even if they belong to the local government. The projects consider themselves accountable first to the children and the neighbours.
[In our case] either the project is based on the concept of rights or we don’t do it. The question of our autonomy is basic, because without it we can’t carry them out, and our autonomy has practical effects, for it allows us a margin of flexibility and of method innovation that other projects don’t have. In our team sometimes each [of the three formally hired educators/social workers] takes responsibility for an area, but sometimes a few youngsters join us and its five or six of us managing the project. We can do that, but public employees can’t, and private providers can only do it at the expense of their workers
57.4. Interaction with the local welfare system
The triangle made up by the local council (responsible for the service as a whole), the associations (who have a legal agreement with the local council to carry it out) and the practitioners (who are employees of the association but are, in practice, integrated in the local social services organisation) allows for the aforementioned autonomy of the projects. Practitioners tend to speak the same language (with some nuances) as the local social services staff, but the leaders of the associations are local neighbours with a strong commitment to their neighbours and tend to be much more “straight to the point”.
The kind of associations we work in is special, and our bosses are our fellows in all its complexity. (…) There was one of those meetings with the local council after a cutback of 50 per cent of our activity budget. We were very angry, and we as a team wrote down a document against the cutback, and the director of social services said she had nothing to talk with us and that she’d only talk to the leaders of the association, to our bosses. OK, go ahead! Now she prefers to talk to us
The relationship between the TSOs and the local council is more conflictive in this last case than in the previous three, in spite of, or maybe because of, a closer relationship as direct providers of services commissioned by the local council.