Jovian Smalley Engagement Manager
Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing
My colleague and I recently went to visit Bath and North Somerset’s (B&NES) council’s Connecting Families service.
Whilst we already knew it was a lovely, historic area to visit (read more about my work in B&NES), what we wanted to find out was whether by improving the way Connecting Families service share information has helped them to support families in a more effective way. By meeting with one of the key-workers from the service, it gave us the opportunity to hear a true account of how sharing information has helped one young man named Tom, who is just one of the 200 families the service has worked with since 2012.
Tom had been suffering with serious mental health and substance misuse issues, which had caused him to be increasingly violent to his mother. Tom had been sectioned for further assessment following intervention from the Connecting Families team. His mother could no longer cope and had taken extended sick leave from work, meaning she was struggling with finances and the home environment was in disarray.
Tom’s key-worker partnered with the Child and Adult Mental Health Service (CAMHS) to put a joint discharge plan in place for Tom, and worked with his mother to put boundaries in place when he returned home. Tom completed sessions with his key-worker around anger management, self-control, self-esteem and confidence and as a result Tom has been back in mainstream education at Bath College for several weeks now. Tom’s mother also worked with the key-worker to address issues around her parenting and she now feels her old self and has been able to return to work.
The name of the game here is collaboration. The story ended well for Tom because services at B&NES collaborated to help manage the risks of his psychosis and share information to restore calm and order in his family environment. To support more families like Tom’s, the Connecting Families team know that they need to move from informal, evolutionary joint working practices to a more formalised and consistent approach to sharing information.
This however isn’t always easy; faced with financial uncertainty, partners are encountering significant challenges to collaborate and share information, including concerns about a lack of capacity to deal with increased mental health referrals, and a lack of resources to create spaces for change. These are the sorts of challenges that mean families have to tell their stories over and over again to a fragmented and overlapping network of agencies.
One challenge faced by the Connecting Families team is the timeliness and accessibility of mental health referrals they receive. This is due to some partners still holding paper records on their clients, these partners will therefore need to work with Connecting Families to develop processes or systems so they can share greater volumes of information about vulnerable clients such as Tom.
Without robust processes in place to enable agencies in B&NES to share information about vulnerable families swiftly, there is always a risk these families will fall through gaps in the system. Fortunately this didn’t happen in Tom’s case, and his story helps us to see that collaboration can be a game-changer: both for services and the people that need them.