Multi-Agency has been defined as ‘Involving cooperation between several organizations, especially in crime prevention, social welfare programmes, or research. (Oxford dictionaries, 2018)
Multi-agency working has been used within practice since the middle of the nineteenth century, which involved social workers collaborating together to reduce poverty in England. (Cheminais, 2009). In current years, multi-agency working has received much attention. An example of this would be, the Government’s Every Child Matters (ECM) guidance that includes strategies for practisers such as a Children’s Trust model of practice, which mentions’ involving a range of different professionals working together to provide care for children and young people in England (DfES, 2003).
Although, strategies have been put into place to provide effective working, many children have been ‘failed’ due to barriers practitioners have faced. A victim of this includes Victoria Climbié who sadly died in 2000. After Lord Laming’s 2003 serious case review it stated ‘This report is a vivid demonstration of poor practice within and between social services, the police, and the health agencies. (Laming, 2003). The report will look into the skills and principles that multi-agencies possess as well as looking at potential and critical barriers and implications. Where possible it will also address possible outcomes.
The child’s voice is a vital component for working as part of a multi-agency. Lack of the child’s voice could be held accountable for children’s deaths such a Daniel Pelka, Baby P and Victoria Climbié. In recent years more focus has been placed on allowing children to have the opportunity to speak out. New guidance such as the UNCRC alongside professional voices such as Ilene Monro has created a pathway for children allowing there voice to be heard as well as supporting multi-agency collaboration.
United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)
The United Nations Conventions on the Rights Child (UNCRC) is an international agreement created in 1989 involving 194 countries. The UNCRC sets out the ‘civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of every child, regardless of their race, religion or abilities.’(Save the children, 2018).
This agreement allows all children to have the right to voice their opinions on any issues that they are involved and surrounded around further preventing the barrier that overlooks the child’s voice. The UNCRC can have a major effect in changing the way that cases dealt with an example of this can be Article 13 which states that ‘The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child’s choice.’ (Unicef.org.uk, n.d). With Serious Case Reviews such as Daniel Pelka, it highlighted that language was a barrier, however no other methods of communication such as drawings or writings. If versions such as the Child-Friendly Version (Appendix 1) were introduced it could have possibly been prevention or allowed intervention to take place.
Daniel Pelka was a four-year-old child living in Coventry who had been tragically murdered by his mother and her partner in 2010. On several different occasions Pelka had been visited by social care professionals including the Children, Learning and Young People Directorate (CLYP) these visits occurred numerous times in 2008 and again in 2010. Several other referrals to the CLYP should have been filed. However, due to different circumstances, they were overlooked such as the mother being deemed competent to look after Daniel.
Pelka was one of many children that highlighted the lack of information sharing between different agencies.
Professor Ilene Munro’s review of child protection summarised the need to place a greater trust and responsibility on, skilled practitioners at who are at the frontline of multi-agency working. Monro argued that skilled practitioners are in the best position to use their professional judgment as to when to ‘share information with colleagues working within the same organization, as well as with those working within other organizations, in order to provide effective early help, to promote their welfare, and to keep children safe from harm’. (Information act 2018)
Barriers within multi-agency collaboration can stem from a range of different issues such as differing ideologies, varying practices as well as processes. Although barriers are still visible within some practices. Below are mentioned the most frequent and problematic reasons for failings often brought up within Serious Case Reviews (SCR)
Multi Agencies that are of comprised of several or more different businesses. Due to this, it could further be a barrier. All agencies have their own forms of abbreviations often used to make the job more efficient (e.g. early year’s foundation stage – EYFS). Fitzgerald (2015) states ‘terminology attitudes to information sharing and professional principle can cause tension between agencies and poor integration of service delivery’.
Practitioners need to be cautious of the audience in which they are speaking to as people outside of that setting may use different terminology a prime example of this is that within Cornwall our multi-agency safeguarding hubs are referred to as the MARU rather than the more commonly identified MASH.
The lack of information sharing within a multi-agency can also be a barrier, serious case reviews conducted by Lord Laming into cases such as Victoria Climbié and Baby P frequently highlight the failings between the safeguarding partners and multi-agencies. Although events such as the death of Victoria Climbié occurred due to the lack of communication by partner services, it further created support in the form of the white Every Child Matters (ECM) paper. Every child matters provide intrinsic links between the setting, services, agencies and the community in order to help to improve educational achievement, the health, and the social care as well as young people and their families. Although ECM has been put into place agencies are encouraged to branch out and create links with various other agencies. If links are not made this could potentially become a barrier when information needs to be passed onto external agencies especially when regarding safeguarding concerns.
Working together to safeguarding children 2018 further states that ‘Fears about sharing information must not be allowed to stand in the way of the need to promote the welfare, and protect the safety, of children, which must always be the paramount concern.’ Within settings such as schools as the safety or concerns of a child must not be overlooked by fears of sharing information.
Time can become a critical barrier for multi-agency collaboration. Time is a variable factor that could often be the cause of failings within SCR’s. All agencies are limited to time barriers with deadlines that are prioritised increasing the pressure to work alongside external agencies are threatened.
Atkinson, Lamont and Jones, 2007 identified within their report ‘Whilst financial certainty and equity was important, inadequate or time-limited funding were identified as problematic. A rapid turnover of staff, recruitment difficulties and insufficient time allocated for multi-agency activity were also reported to be potential threats to its success ‘. This shows that often there is not enough time allocated for multi-agency working within their job roles.
Monro (2011a) book review stated that ‘experienced social workers should be kept on the frontline even when they become managers so that their experience and skills are not lost and that each local authority should designate a Principal Child and Family Social Worker to report the views and experiences of the front line to all levels of management.’ This statement may
Window et al. (2004) conducted and investigated a report into multi-agency services for child behavioral problems. Windows found that services which offered direct access and self-referral for families had faster response times, as well as referring clients to appropriate agencies. Self-referrals may further be a way to overcome the time barrier due to being a direct approach to any collaborative agency required.
Monro (2011 a) further reported on timescales she stated ‘the Government should remove the specific statutory requirement on local authorities for completing assessments within often artificial set timescales; that local services which work with children and families should be freed from unhelpful government targets’. Targets set throughout the government are often unrealistic placing stress on agencies and staff to complete reports. ‘Only 25% of people reported they had time for critical reflection. Only a further 37% report getting sufficient supervision.’ (Munro, 2015 b)
Key Features and Principles of Multi-Agency Practise
Key Features and Principles of Multi-Agency Practise ensure effective functioning. Key features frequently used within multi-agencies are information sharing, knowledge of relevant legislation and multi-agency safeguarding hubs. When collaborating with external agencies a plethora of these multi-agency features can be accessed allowing professionals to act quickly to a range of children’s needs.
Information sharing is a key feature of multi-agency practice when practiced correctly it protects children in vulnerable situations and provides the right for all children to have a safe environment.
The Common Core 2005 states that ‘Sharing information in a timely and accurate way is an essential part of helping to deliver better services to children, young people, their families, and carers. Indeed, sometimes it will help save lives’ (The Common Core, 2015). This piece of legislation mentions the vital information needed for effective information sharing, including some of the following; information handling which includes being able to process the data and refer it to appropriate agencies. Clear communication that covers expanding and adapting terminology to suit the audience as well as finally mentioning engagement that encompasses being able to gain trust, consent and gaining respect from all concerned.
Working Together to Safeguard Children further includes factors mentioned within the Common Core as well as mentioning how ‘practitioners should be alert to sharing important information about any adults with whom that child has contact, which may impact the child’s safety or welfare.’ (Working together to safeguard children, 2018)
Effective information sharing underpins integrated working and is a vital element of both early intervention and safeguarding. (Information Act 2013 cited in Cornwall and Isle of Silly Safeguarding, 2016)
This statutory guidance is essential when involving multi-agencies. Although the legal guidance determines what they can do it is important that individual settings also stick to the Information Sharing Act 2018 this is simplified into 7 golden rules. The report later mentions how ‘every practitioner must take responsibility for sharing the information they hold, and cannot assume that someone else will pass on information, which may be critical to keeping a child safe.’ (Information sharing act, 2018)
Many forms of statutory guidance and legislation often are changed and updated after governmental changes and publications of SCR’s such as Victoria Climbié, Baby P and Daniel Pelka. Although the devastating death of the child it further protected and prevented countless other lives due to the introduction of the Every Child matters white paper and the Children Act 2004.
The Children Act 2004 was updated after Victoria Climbié death. Section 11 (Appendix 3) after Lord Lammings report it concluded that ‘Section 11 creates a duty for the key agencies who work with children to put in place arrangements to make sure that they take account of the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children when doing their jobs.’
Furthermore, after the implementation of the Children Act 1989, it highlighted the importance of collaboration ‘the act clearly confirmed that multi-agency approaches were seen as the most effective way of protecting children from abuse’. Fitzgerald (2008; 35) Section 47 (Appendix 6) provides details of when to investigate ‘everyone to has the right to join together and protect the child from harm by providing and sharing information. Children’s Act 1989 HM Government (Section 47; 11). Fitzgerald 2008 is also supported by Cheminais (2009) ‘The Children Act 1989 established the statutory requirement for inter-agency collaboration and joint working in relation to children and young people, requiring professionals to ‘work better together’.’ Cheminais (2009)
Legislation is often being updated and edited to suit the changing environment in which skilled practitioners are working. Current legislation has agencies such as education, social care and health working alongside one another. Although legislation forms the core of multi-agency practice it must be ensured that they are following the most up to date versions e.g. Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018
Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hubs
‘The Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) is the single point of contact for all early help and safeguarding concerns regarding children and young people (Wolverhampton Safeguarding, 2015).
The Office of Children’s Commissioner made an inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Gangs and Groups. Within their research, they identified that effective multi-agency working still needs to become more widespread.
Child Sexual Exploitation in Gangs and Groups further found that both police and local authorities still identified the inability to share information becoming a key barrier to safeguarding children from sexual exploitation. (Multi-Agency Working and Information Sharing Project, 2014) ‘The report cited MASHs as an encouraging development, combining the expertise and resources of several bodies in order to identify children at risk of sexual exploitation’. This coordination was identified as particularly important for children and young people who face several different risks. The inquiry found that: 23% of LSCBs reported having a MASH in their area and a further 18% had one under currently under development
Within Cornwall, as a county, they failed to meet the multi-agency safeguarding standards. Due to a result of this MARU (Multi-Agency Referral Unit) was put into place during June 2016. In order to provide ‘a multi-disciplinary response to concerns about the welfare or safety of a child in line with the LSCB guidance on interagency thresholds/continuum of need.’ (Cornwall.gov.uk, 2016)
Within Multi-Agency settings, collaborative advantage provides the ability to form effective and rewarding partnerships with other organisations, for originations such as schools having a range of various partnerships will further help to provide children with the correct support and care.
When partnerships are formed it provides another branch that agencies can refer to or pass information of concern such as the MARU who will then use appropriate legislation and agencies to effectively provide a solution to suit the child’s individual needs.
Skills in Multi-Agency
Skills within multi-agency are vital for effective and efficient running. Without skills such as communication, training and clear governance links between agencies can crumble resulting in negative consequences and in worst-case scenario’s death
Good Leadership and Clear Governance
Good leadership and clear governance is a critical skill when working within a multi-agency. Townsley et al., (2004) stressed the positive role that leadership can play in multi-agency partnerships. The authors state that effective leadership and the existence of allies and derives from both strategic (e.g. headmaster) and operational levels (e.g. teacher), all organizations involved will benefit from the presence and skills of one another. This can further be backed within organisations such as schools, these organisations are able to cooperate with one another to gain skills and knowledge however without clear leadership may be problematic.
Townsley can further be supported by Atkinson et al, (2002) who found that leadership and drive at a strategic level enhanced multi-agency working this can support that headmasters often form the link between partner agencies and organisations
Good Leadership and governance could be supported by Harts Ladder of participation (Appendix 2) the higher up the rungs the better partnership with the child is experienced further making it easier to identify any situations needing external agency collaboration. If a child is situated within the first 3 rungs the harder to identify any issues that could occur, these children are often less vocal following others and not confident enough to open about issues, therefore, making collaboration between any required agencies limited.
In addition, good leadership alongside clear governance may further help multi-agency collaboration in addition to training. Good Leadership would ensure that all staff has been given relevant training as well as ensuring that all training is up to date. As mentioned later training may also be seen as a barrier in multi-agency working.
Communication plays a vital role in healthy functioning within the collaboration of various agencies. The Common Core of Skill and Knowledge mentions effective communication with children, young people, and families. This guidance covers listening, questioning, understanding of what is being communicated by children, young people and those caring for them. Furthermore highlighting the importance of responding to issues quickly communicating to all who may be concerned.
Common core states that ‘it is important to be able to communicate both on a one-on-one basis and in a group. Communication is not just about the words you use, but also about the way you’re speaking and your body language’. This further emphasises the need for practitioners to have relevant training to assess body language in addition to detecting anything that would highlight concern.
Without communication, it further would become a barrier due to incidents such as Victoria Climbié. In order to prevent this, the Common Core provided information (Appendix 4) on how to provide successful communication to children, young people as well as their families. These forms of communication may also be used to strengthen communication between partnership agencies due to having useful information on providing strong communication.
The Data Protection Act 2018 may also be important within communication as although the common core informs agencies on how to provide effective communication. The Data Protection Act and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) provides guidelines on how all information regarding children are processed stored and transferred.
Ensuring that all staff have relevant training is an influential factor not only for individual practitioners but also for agencies. All staff who work with a multi-agency need to be equipped with skills to enablable them to complete the job but further skills that allow them to have the knowledge and understanding of how to communicate within a multi-agency setting. Training such as being competent to handle the Common Assessment Framework (CAF) may form the central importance. The CAF (Appendix 5) helps provide integrated working and alongside others involved within the children’s workforce. Without CAF early intervention for children who do not meet the threshold for intensive intervention would not be possible
As aforementioned above good leadership will ensure that all professionals are equipped with the relevant training. Atkinson et al (2002) found ‘professionals from one agency enhanced the expertise of those of another by providing consultation and/or training.’
Facilitative methods allow opportunities for the group to collaborate and share ideas and work as part of a larger group. Within a multi-agency setting, it encompasses factors such as Early Help that is put in place to provide early and timely intervention.
It is estimated that over two million children in the UK today are living in difficult family circumstances. These include children whose family lives are affected by parental drug and alcohol dependency, domestic abuse and poor mental health. (Early help services: how well are they meeting children’s needs? 2015)
Early help hubs (EHH) play a vital role when working with young children. They provide a focal point of contact for any safeguarding concerns or queries surrounding a child as well as further providing a range of services within the children’s workforce such as; family group conferencing (FGC), child inclusion services, and parenting support.
Working Together to Safeguard Children (2018) states ‘providing early help is more effective in promoting the welfare of children than reacting later. Early help means providing support as soon as a problem emerges, at any point in a child’s life, from the foundation years through to the teenage years.’
Without services such as early help it would cause more statutory intervention to be put place. Furthermore without the support of EHH it could case potential opportunities for children to live in dangerous environments. Therefore it is vital that across all areas MHH are running effectively to support the child.
Overall within this report, it highlights that multi-agencies have a breadth of skills and knowledge surrounding children and young people. It is important that practitioners keep up to date and share relent information to help to protect the child. , All information such as local and statutory guidance need to be taken into account and followed at all times. It can be concluded that when practised multi-agency collaboration can be a frontline service for all children.
Furthermore, it is vital that positive factors such as Early Help and information sharing do not become outweighed by the barriers. If potential problems were to form it is crucial that strategies of overcoming barriers need to be put into place at the earliest convenience to protect children and young people.
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