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Several years ago, a senior police colleague told me about an official visit to the US. In one of the cities he visited, a co-located multi agency child protection unit had been established.
The lead agencies involved were not only the police department and social services but schools, health, environmental services, housing and other local government departments.
He returned to the UK inspired, although the concept of co-location had been around for a very long time, at that time there were few live examples of it in practice here. It is such an obvious way of conducting child protection (and probably adult safeguarding), that one wonders why it isn’t in the Children Acts.
That is until one factors in the very different cultures and ambitions of the agencies that would necessarily have to commit resources. Needless to say, attempts by my colleague and I to sell the idea around Whitehall during the development of Every Child Matters, were met with polite but obdurate resistance.
More recently, I followed the development of the Devon Multi–Agency Safeguarding Hub (the MASH) and was encouraged to see solid commitment from the participating agencies.
Devon MASH took the concept of a referral unit beyond that of brokerage and into the realms of early assessment and triage. It is a solid example of what strategic collaboration can achieve and the benefits it brings to children and their families.
However, like others that followed, it relies wholly upon the commitment of participating agencies and in times of austerity, such commitments can prove extremely fragile.
In July, the Government published early findings from a Home Office funded project to improve national and local understanding of the different local multi-agency models for information sharing about child protection and vulnerable adults.
This was a police led study and I suspect was driven by recognition of the huge costs of providing police support to repeat victims. No cynicism intended, this is an excellent initiative that needed someone to take the lead on.
The study, called Multi-Agency Working and Information Sharing Project
Early Findings involved 37 visits to sites across England.
The project claims to have identified a plethora of multi-agency information sharing models in place across the country. These consisted of a range of multi-agency working and information sharing approaches which included Front Door, Access, Triage, Central Duty Team, Multi-Agency Referral Unit, Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub and Joint Action Teams, among other models, all aimed at improving and evolving the local safeguarding response with better partnership working.
Agencies represented within multi-agency safeguarding approaches, often co-located or with virtual arrangements in place, included local authorities (children and adult services), police, health and probation.
The full report on the findings of this project will be published later this year but already it has highlighted the essential ingredients for success.
These included co-location, the need for buy in from strategic leadership teams, good (possibly independent) leadership within the MASH, having an analyst or someone with the capacity to examine data to examine trends, listening to and utilising the views of service users, and strong accountability and leadership.
There is much to celebrate in this interim report and above all is the commendable participation of agencies, in spite of significant financial constraints.
What is needed next is some solid evidence of the benefits and I am hopeful that this might be included in the final report. For without this, there is a real risk that the enthusiasm this important concept has thus far enjoyed, may turn to disappointment and cynicism.
By Reg Pengelly