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Bottom-up Integration: a partnership between the Juvenile Offenders Unit of Offertasociale Community and the Regional Center for Juvenile Justice of the Ministry of Justice


Background. Whether integration in state run social services is perceived by professionals as an institutional task and a legislative mandate or as an asset and motivation to implement good practices and work more effectively, it is a complex issue.

In the first case, networks do not act creatively and hardly generate competences; professionals cannot invest in them because they have not taken part in the decision making, although they are subsequently called to implement the integration plan. Social workers have no part in the decision making and networks become self-referential.

This paper is about an integrated good practice created from the bottom, which implies strong methodological motivation on the part of professionals to implement it.

The Community Juvenile Offenders Unit was created in 2001 by the Public Company Offertasociale; the team works for 29 municipalities situated in the north-east Milan Province. Since 2001 there has been an active collaboration with a social worker from the Juvenile Justice Center of Milan. This collaboration became formal in 2003, with the specific purpose to set up an integrated inter-institutional and inter-professional team.

The analysis suggests that an ongoing self-assessment of project is necessary to verify service quality. The evaluation process gives a new starting point: a formal Partnership Protocol with the Lombardy Regional Center for Juvenile Justice.

Collaboration enabled to reduce the categorization implemented by the Circular District nr 58/1990, which distinguishes between and reported teenagers and those who are in the Judicial system. The integrated team challenged itself in creating the conditions for personalizing and leading case work not only with teenagers themselves, but also with their families as well as to assessing group needs and creating and implementing new forms of social work. This form of new integrated social service met the goal of integration stated in the Presidential Decree nr. 448/1988 - the Criminal Juvenile Justice Procedures - between communities and Ministry Departments.

Indeed, professionals' commitment to the project created a unique integration process which has turned from an informal methodological exchange to a formal and participated Partnership. The way to get to this point was neither prompt nor smooth, nor was it linear, as the project is the first of its kind in Italy.

The goal of the project is the building of an organizational infra-structure for an effective and efficient service for troubled youth as well as a reference point for the communities.

 Project description. Offertasociale and the Regional Center of Juvenile Justice of Ministry of Justice in Lombardy are directly involved in the Partnership. Adolescents and the community are both direct and indirect stakeholders of the integrated teamwork.

A protocol was written by professionals: it reports partnership philosophy, purposes, objectives and procedures. It will be available on the Offertasociale website.

Tools: work planning according to the goals; step by step approach to integration; ongoing self-assessment. Procedures will be assessed every year in order to improve the quality of interventions.

 Outcomes and implications. The assessment process showed there were advantages for both parts; the integrated networked system created a reference point for entire communities, and services proved to be cost-effective, offering not only time and spatial flexibility, but also the possibility of sharing and exchanging materials, training programs, without forgetting the collaboration between communities themselves.

This presentation addresses different organization models which affected the outcome of our project. Although both Offertasociale and the Regional Center for Juvenile Justice are public entities, their structure is quite different: the former is a flexible, community-based and oriented project, while the latter is a hierarchical, bureaucratic and centralized organization.

Important points: outcomes and communication process are linked to an individual will, rather than to a specific method. However, there is a risk of focusing too much on individuals and avoiding the structural and organizational process of decision making. In order to create an adaptable and repeatable method, a balance needs to be found between the two.

Integration may work effectively if professionals were involved in the decision making: public policy should require participated planning integration as a requirement and self-assessment process as well.

Integration is an ongoing learning process but it should turn into an individual product. A critical and serious self-assessment must be the way to maintain high quality and customer orientation, not self-referential one.

An external assessment could be provided by a research project that implements the 'best' method found in different contexts. Then it would be possible to compare outcomes and weaknesses trying to define a 'universal' model which is flexible and adaptable to different communities. Otherwise, each experience would remain a good practice in that specific context, without creating any competence to be used in other cases.

Key references

Giudice, E. (2006). L'esperienza dell'équipe minorile di Vimercate e Trezzo: un "penale" aperto al territorio. Lavoro Sociale, 3.

Olivetti Manoukian, F. (1998). Produrre i servizi. Lavorare con oggetti immateriali. Bologna: Il Mulino.

Twelvetrees, A. (2006). Il lavoro sociale di comunità. Come costruire progetti partecipati. Trento: Erickson.

Contacts: Elena Giudice, Offertasociale asc - Unità Operativa Penale Minorile (Juvenile Offenders Unit), P.zza Marconi, 7/d - 20059 Vimercate (MI) Italy Website: www.offertasociale.it, E-mail: penaleminorile@asc.offertasociale.it, Mobile: +39 (335) 7852350, Tel. and Fax: +39 (039) 669284, E-mail: elena.giudice@gmail.com, Phone +39 (347) 9689528.


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