The recently published national review into the tragic deaths of Star Hobson and Arthur Labinjo-Hughes identified serious failings in multi-agency child protection working and recommended the establishment of Multi-Agency Child Protection Units (MACPU). In this blog, health and social workers, including the NIHR Doctoral Researcher Fellow and GP, Sharon Dixon, and Professor Catherine Pope from the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, highlight their support for the review's call for guidance, and their plans to develop multi-agency working by accounting for different cultures and working practices of individual agencies.
Multi-agency working is the cornerstone of effective child safeguarding. This is embodied throughout safeguarding processes, from a policy and strategic level where safeguarding partnerships hold oversight of child safeguarding planning to the front-line delivery of safeguarding care. It seeks to bring together professional perspectives and knowledge from across the different facets of families’ lives and interfaces with services, to provide a nuanced contextual understanding of the child within their family and social circumstances.
The recently published national review into the tragic deaths of Star Hobson and Arthur Labinjo-Hughes identified serious failings in multi-agency child protection working and recommended the establishment of Multi-Agency Child Protection Units (MACPU). The review also calls for the development of evidence based national standards on what works when supporting children and families in multi-agency child safeguarding and advises that these are co-developed with input from relevant partner agencies. The recognition that there is a need to improve multi-agency working, and to create the knowledge and leadership needed to support that, is both timely and welcome.
Multi-agency working can be complex; while the agencies and individuals involved typically share aims and goals about the safeguarding process, each has their own guidelines, practices, and processes. This is further complicated by the different structures of different agencies. Some are considered or treated as a ‘single entity’ under an umbrella heading, for example ‘education’ or ‘health’ and this may obscure significant differences and layers of complexity within their structures and teams. For example, ‘education’ for one family could include several schools or pre-school settings which each function as discrete relatively autonomous units. ‘Health’ can include health visiting, midwifery, primary and secondary care – all of whom may be bound by different work protocols, professional guidance and/or boundaries.
This makes multi-agency collaboration complicated and difficult. We know from child safeguarding practice reviews that the gaps in multi-agency processes are implicated in failings of child safeguarding processes, sometimes with devastating impacts.1 Bridging these gaps requires understanding how and when these gaps arise or are maintained.
While there are many commonalities between how agencies approach safeguarding, there are also differences in processes and a lack of a shared understanding of these can hinder cross agency and genuinely multi-professional working. Simply reiterating the need for inter-agency working without understanding and addressing points of concern and divergence is unlikely to resolve all potential difficulties. Differences in professional ‘culture’ have been identified as contributory factors for differences in safeguarding practice. We contend that a deeper understanding of safeguarding practices, and how these look and feel on the front-line of multi-agency encounters, is needed to mitigate against points of tension which hinder multi-agency working.
About the authors:
Sharon Dixon: GP and NIHR Doctoral Research Fellow at the University of Oxford. She is a practice safeguarding lead.
Catherine Pope: Professor of Medical Sociology in the department
Bryony Kendall: GP and a Named GP for NHS Cheshire and MerseysideAffiliation: NHS Cheshire and Merseyside
Jenny Driscoll: Reader in Children’s Rights at kings College London, and former barrister specialising in care proceedings and multi-agency work.