Why is community important to children and young people? What skills and values are important for practitioners as they work together in communities to support children and young people?

 The aim of this work is to outline why community is important to children and young people by discussing the idea of community and how it has evolved over time. It will look at how adults view children and the spaces they occupy, and how this makes children and young people feel. It will discuss social capital and how relationships are intertwined with communities. It also looks at the skills and values that practitioners will need when working in multi-agency settings. When thinking about why community is important to children, we need to first assess what a community means to children and their lives.


To begin with, the idea of community has changed over time. Changes in the social structure over time have meant that children’s opinions and voices are being sought out in regard to policymaking; however, this has not always been the case. In the past, children were usually "seen but not heard." This has meant that children have specific spaces they are allowed to be in, such as school, their bedroom, and parks, and when they are somewhere that is not a "child space," they are viewed as being out of place. Jenks (2005), as cited in Clark and Gallacher (2013, p. 11), compares children and adolescents to weeds. Gardners see weeds as plants that are growing in the wrong place and say that children and young people, like weeds, are noticeable because of where they are. Soja (1980), cited in Clark and Gallacher (2013), p. 4, argues that space shapes and is shaped by social relations, MacQueen (2001), cited in Bessell (2017, p. 109 and 110), identifies communities as operating in physical locations and so defines community as people who are linked by social ties, share common perspectives, and participate in group actions in the same locations or settings. Bessell (2017) also notes that "children identify relationships as central to communities," which means that strong relationships with others are what defines a community. Putnam (2003), cited in Bessell (2017, p. 110), also argues that the social ties that form within communities build trust. Research has been carried out by Bessell (2013, 2015), cited in Bessell (2017), to explore children's own views about community and what they have experienced within it. The children defined community as a social space where people are connected, there is support, and in times of difficulty, communities can help professionals such as the police or fire services. Again, there is an emphasis on relationships and the roles people play in supporting each other. There is a benefit to children in the form of services that can be accessed through the community, although in this case, it is adults coming together to support children. This research demonstrates how children’s voices are now being heard and included in research and that they can possibly begin to have influence in decision-making, but despite this, many children are still considered unwelcome, disruptive, or at risk in public spaces. Matthews (2005), cited in Bessell (2017), notes how young people are seen as a "polluting presence" in adult-owned public spaces. The children who participated in the Australian research project also noted exclusionary attitudes from some adults. This attitude leaves children feeling excluded from their communities; on the other hand, positive attitudes can make them feel included. Bronfenbrenner (1979), cited in The Open University, 2021a, discusses the importance of interpersonal structures for human development and how it is influenced by the relationships formed within communities.


Coleman (1988), cited in Allan, Catts, and Stelfox (2012), also sees relationships and the good they do for society. This is known as social capital. Bourdieu (1986), cited in The Open University (2021b), refers to social capital as the connections within and between social networks. These connections can be beneficial to children with regard to institutional resources; however, some children and their families may not have access to social capital. This can be due to their lack of other forms of capital; for example, a parent may not be able to afford a membership to a sports club, and so they are denied access to those new potential networks. Community is important to children as it allows them to feel included and gain access to multidisciplinary resources, which may be informal, such as church groups, or formal, like social services.


When working in communities, practitioners will need a range of skills and values to allow them to work effectively together. One of those skills is communication. The Children Act (2004), cited in Anning and Frost (2016), emphasised that all agencies should share information, assessment protocols, and frameworks. Poor communication between agencies has, in the past, led to the deaths of children needing protection. The case of Daniel Pelka (The Open University, 2021c) demonstrates how miscommunication can have devastating consequences. The agencies working with the Pelka family did not communicate effectively with each other. For example, the serious case review notes that he had bruising, which the school failed to refer on to other services (Lock, 2013; cited in The Open University, 2021d). This has led to reforms for service providers, and Frost (2014a), cited in Anning and Frost (2016), shows how this has been a positive outcome for multi-agency working. Good communication between agencies also allows families to be supported in a holistic way. This is discussed by Gavin Gibbs (The Open University, 2021e), and it involves practitioners clearly communicating their roles and responsibilities. Following on from this, another necessary skill is organization. Clear organisation of procedures and referrals can help multi-agency collaboration run smoothly and practitioners know what services will benefit the families they work with. However, different agencies may have different organisational cultures that can affect how they approach multi-agency work. For example, Payler and Georgeson (2013) carried out a study to see how effective joint working was with early childhood workers. It showed that different settings had different attitudes towards interprofessional work. Some settings discovered that other professional organisations lacked direct contact with the early years setting, which resulted in a less holistic approach to providing for the child or family. This study also demonstrates boundary-crossing competence. This is the ability to work competently in multiple contexts. The study found that the setting in which people worked affected their confidence in their competence. This can be because some settings provide more opportunities to put training into practice and are more open to working with others. 


This links in with the need for good organisation and communication. Subsequently, within the study, the lack of direct contact that some professionals demonstrated with the setting shows how some professional agencies may be unreliable. Reliability is a value that practitioners need when working in communities. If a practitioner is reliable, their ability to deliver on their commitments to families also builds a bond of trust. A key worker for families can facilitate this bond. Mark’s story (The Open University, 2021f) tells us how important it is to have a key worker when dealing with many different professionals. Our life experiences can shape and develop our values. People from similar backgrounds can develop similar values. This is evidenced in The Open University (2021g), where Jean suggests that she and Scott have similar values because they come from similar backgrounds. Their life experiences have made them want to "give back" to their communities. Professional values can be different from personal values, and these can sometimes clash. This links back to organisational culture and how failures may occur when professional and personal values clash. Certain organisations may have rules and principles when dealing with ethical issues. This is known as deontology. Banks (2005), cited in The Open University (2021h), refers to professional ethics as standards of behaviour that are expected of someone working in a certain profession. They are not set in stone and can be influenced by the social policies of the time. When working with other agencies, it is important for practitioners to be aware of each other's professional values and to aim for better strategies to allow for better interprofessional working. To conclude, communities are important to children and young people as they help them feel involved and allow them to influence change in their areas. This was seen when discussing positive intergenerational relationships. The Bessell study shows how children think of community and takes their opinions and ideas into consideration. In regards to the services that children and families have access to, there is a greater emphasis on multi-agency working. This has meant that practitioners have had to learn new skills and examine their values as they work together to provide a more holistic approach to working with families. In the serious case review of Daniel Pelka, it is noted how miscommunication between agencies meant that signs of abuse went unnoticed by the right authorities. The Payler and Georgeson study demonstrated that some practitioners did not feel competent enough when dealing with other professionals, and this can affect how they communicate any concerns about families and children.


Allan, J, Catts, R and Stelfox, A (2012) ‘Introduction to social capital, children and young people’, in KE322 ‘Young lives, parenting and families’, in Foley, P and Curran, S (eds) The Open University, Milton Keynes

Anning, A and Frost, N (2016) ‘Working in a multi-professional world’ in KE322 ‘Young lives, parenting and families’, in Foley, P and Curran, S (eds), The Open University, Milton Keynes

Bessell, S (2017) ‘The role of intergenerational relationships in children’s experiences of community’, in KE322 ‘Young lives, parenting and families’, in Foley, P and Curran, S (eds) The Open University, Milton Keynes, p. 109-110

Clark, A and Gallacher, L (2013) ‘Children in and out of place’, in ‘Childhoods in context’ Clark, A (ed.) The Open University, Milton Keynes, p.4 

Payler, J and Georgeson, J (2013) ‘Multiagency working in the early years: confidence, competence and context’, in KE322 ‘Young lives, parenting and families’, in Foley, P and Curran, S (eds), The Open University, Milton Keynes

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The Open University, (2021b), ‘who you know: social capital’, KE322 ‘Learning guide 2: society and community. Available at: www.learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=1647151&section=6.5 (Accessed: 03 January 2021)

The Open University, (2021c), ‘working together to protect children’, KE322 ‘Learning guide 3: working together’. Available at: www.learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=1647153&section=4.4#lg3-act4 (Accessed: 03 January 2021)

The Open University, (2021d), ‘activity 3.4 safeguarding and multi-agency working- Part 2’, KE322 ‘Learning guide 3: working together’. Available at: www.learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=1647153&section=4.4#lg3-act4 (Accessed: 03 January 2021)

The Open University, (2021e), ‘Activity 3.5 Working together in practice: a practitioner’s perspective’, KE322 ‘Learning guide 3: working together’. [audio] Available at: www.learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=1647153&section=4.5 (Accessed: 03 January 2021)

The Open University, (2021f), ‘Activity 3.6 A father’s story’, KE322 ‘Learning guide 3: working together’. [video] Available at: www.learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=1647153&section=4.6 (Accessed: 03 January 2021)

The Open University, (2021g), ‘Activity 3.11 Identity and values’, KE322 ‘Learning guide 3: working together’. Available at: www.learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=1647153&section=5.2 (Accessed: 03 January 2021)

The Open University, (2021h), ‘professional ethics’, KE322 ‘Learning guide 3: working together’. Available at: www. learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=1647153&section=5.6 (Accessed: 03 January 2021)


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