The Frontline exChange this year focused on multi-agency working and how we can continue to work collaboratively across sectors to achieve the best possible outcomes for children and families. As part of the annual event, we had an hour-long Social Work Coffee Break session, hosted by our chief executive Mary Jackson.
We were joined by a range of professionals who spoke about how we can implement multi-agency working:
- Lisa Zaranyika – Frontline fellow and principal practice tutor on the Frontline programme
- Anu Roy – Teach First alumni
- Ian McGeoghegan – Mental health practitioner and Frontline fellow
- Nelly Ali – Police Now alumni
The children and families that social workers support are often being supported by multiple different people across different settings. Currently these professionals are generally not linked – school leaders, youth workers and social workers are trained in isolation from each other and mostly carry on working in silos throughout their careers. There is little opportunity for them to understand each other’s perspectives or to develop new ways of supporting children and young people.
Strong multi-agency links provide opportunities for professionals in different areas of public service to learn about their respective roles and develop a shared knowledge of tools and approaches that can achieve the best outcomes for children and families. This discussion highlighted the below key factors as important for implementing successful working relationships across agencies, enabling a more holistic approach to supporting children and families.
Establishing personal relationships was highlighted as the foundation for ensuring strong multi-agency collaboration. Forming personal relationships requires making a conscious effort to understand each other’s role; as Lisa put it “We need to see the person behind the role and title.”
Personal, meaningful relationships with other professionals ensures that you can ask questions when you need to, understand priorities quickly and easily, carry out joint visits and achieve better outcomes. They also help reduce potential tension and misunderstandings across agencies.
Fostering these relationships also enables everyone to build a better overview and an increased awareness of the full context. This allows for a better and more personalised response and service for children and families.
Having a common objective and identifying shared goals across the professional network is vital when working together as personal relationships are built around this.
There are four questions professionals should ask when working together to help broaden perspectives beyond your own individual sphere of work:
- Why are we here?
- How are we going to work together most effectively as a group?
- What, together, do we hope to achieve?
- How will we know when we’ve achieved it?
The real skill is then being able to maintain the focus relating to your specialism, for example from a teaching point of view this might be focusing on academic achievement and attendance, while also holding in mind what the wider goal is for the child.
Part of having a shared goal is about acknowledging the different areas of focus each professional has, as well as the agency’s organisational differences. For example, in policing, there is often a different level of consistency in terms of who is supporting the child, young person or family, due to the nature of the job role and shifts – with a multi-agency approach, it may be possible to have a specific point of contact to increase consistency and ensure a more holistic service for children and families.
“You might have different roles and responsibilities, but that shared goal is the one thing that you can agree on and that’s what you can outline in your approach.”
Trust and shared ownership
Developing trust and having a sense of shared ownership was discussed as highly important for successful multi-agency working.
There can often be a worry that if procedure isn’t followed exactly, or if you step outside of your role and something doesn’t work, blame will be placed on you as an individual. This can really restrict the best outcomes for children and families as it limits the professional’s ability to offer different solutions and resources.
Part of overcoming this is ensuring that senior leadership are supportive of multi-agency approaches. However, being clear from the beginning on roles and responsibilities, as well as defining expectations, is key to breaking down that worry and fear and ultimately providing a more holistic service to children and families.
Bringing about change on a huge scale is often slow; taking small steps on a very local scale to improve ways of working is a good place to start when implementing multi-agency working. As you build success, and prove the idea works, there is then a strong case for larger organisational change. The panel discussed the importance of reiterating the benefits and sharing successes of multi-agency working with colleagues and senior leaders. This is often overlooked across agencies, but showcasing what has worked really well is such an effective way to persuade others to adopt a collaborative approach.
Lastly, it is important to remember that although broadening the professional network around a family is important in working effectively to support them, it’s so important to start by asking the family what and who matters to them, what existing support networks they have and drawing on these to strengthen support and the potential for change.
Watch the full session on replay here.