Jovian Smalley, Engagement Manager
Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing
Last week we hosted an event for a range of Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) professionals from across the country. The one day workshop in London offered leading voices in local safeguarding and early help partnerships the opportunity to help shape the conversation about what the next generation of multi-agency information sharing arrangements will look like.
Representatives from MASH partnerships in Bath & North East Somerset, Birmingham, Coventry, London, Sandwell, Staffordshire, Lincolnshire and Leicestershire joined us on the day, together with colleagues from the Home Office.
As part of our preparation for the event, we got in touch with all the participants in advance to understand more about what they have been doing to bring agencies together and integrate systems that enable information to be shared better in order to prevent risk to vulnerable children and families. This interaction ensured we had a fuller understanding of how each of the represented MASH models worked in practice, so that the discussions around the room during the workshop could be as rich as possible. Additional visits to some of the places provided invaluable insights about how closer relationships between professionals improved the effectiveness of the decision-making process in a multi-agency environment and as a result, time after time, we saw how better information sharing has been helping places to manage risk.
In Sandwell Metropolitan Borough, for instance, we saw how significant the co-location of their 12 core services had been in enabling daily case conferences to include multiple perspectives and opinions of practitioners in one room. When we spoke to the London Borough of Camden, we learnt that they had been exploring how children and adult social services could be integrated to ensure that more partner agencies were involved in their decision-making processes. And in Bath & North East Somerset Council, we gained a better understanding of how the design stage of setting up their information sharing hub was focussing on thresholds for taking referrals into the Multi-Agency Information Sharing Hub, so that partners weren’t overloaded with cases carrying low level risk.
As part of our preparation for the event, we used these valuable insights from local MASH partnerships, together with wider research, to develop a MASH briefing that highlighted learning around setting up MASHs from a breadth of experiences. It was heartening to later hear the summation of this paper (that by sharing more information with specialist support services across a safeguarding partnership, risk can be managed better) being expressed widely by those at the workshop.
After a really lively and insightful event, it certainly felt that there was clear agreement that places want the conversations to continue about what the next generation of multi-agency information sharing arrangements will look like. There was also a strong sense of a need for both local leadership and closer working with Government Departments, to complement national guidance about the development of new MASH models.
Using the groundwork we carried out with local places in the lead up to the workshop, and the findings from the day itself, we have developed some key highlights that we feel will support you and your own local area when forming a multi-agency model. Your own Chief Executive, Director of Safeguarding or Partnerships Manager will want to be involved early in this debate and the following key points may support you the next time you discuss any pressing concerns for your multi-agency arrangements:
1. Co-location can make a big difference
Depending on the systems you can harness to span large regional distances, you may be able to join services up virtually. However, some places, like Sandwell, have found that an ‘all or nothing’ approach to getting partners into the same room has made a big difference to the rapid sharing of softer intelligence on low to medium need risk. Conversely, don’t let your Chief Executive assume that an open-plan office with a break-out area will automatically improve multi-agency information sharing. Co-location isn’t the same as integration, and you may need to merge where services sit to improve communication across teams and ensure sharing is consistent. Some practical steps your leaders may want to consider to improve communication across teams may include deliberately creating multidisciplinary spaces, holding speed-dating sessions or practice sharing sessions, and developing shared policies and procedures.
2. Building a team culture is key
Through the same professionals working closely together on cases, trust will be built and you can start to get a truly holistic picture of the risk you’re trying to manage. This is what Birmingham found when they set up their MASH in response to local child protection concerns. Impress upon your safeguarding lead the importance of investing time in training and developing the staff that work within the MASH, and the necessity of their own active leadership in ensuring the success of the partnership. Birmingham found that forming an operational group to set the tone and culture of the MASH made it possible for better information sharing to happen.
3. Defining thresholds is difficult but necessary
Many of the attendees at our MASH workshop agreed that defining thresholds for referring cases into the MASH was a “volatile and contentious” issue. Doing this immediately throws up several questions that should be exercising your Chief Executive: What is the common baseline all agencies will work to? Will they all be able to meet regularly to agree appropriate thresholds, and if necessary, adapt them to avoid becoming swamped? If each practitioner needs to use their professional judgement to establish an appropriate response to levels of risk, what training do they need for this to happen consistently? London Councils reported a drive from the CEO level to align existing thresholds regionally.
4. Agreeing how you get consent to share is vital
As we began to narrow down the burning issues that attendees wanted to consider during our MASH workshop, the topic of consent was talked about most loudly. Ask your lead how they would ensure that managing consent is agreed across the partnership. Does the person understand the purpose of sharing information about them? Are they giving permission for sharing information about themselves or others in their family? Is the person clear what will happen to their information? Which agencies will share their information? Legislative gateways and professional practice differ for partners in the MASH (such as health and education services), making partnership agreement on the approach key. So ensuring service design decisions are collective, and that professionals are supported in making decisions on a day-to-day basis, is a key step for consideration.
5. Feedback matters
Your Chief Executive will know that staff need to be empowered to make rational, informed decisions about complex cases of risk. Attendees told us this can only happen once feedback loops are in place throughout the system. Local leaders need to think about tracking and evaluating cases, not only through the MASH, but also once the outcome has been decided. What is it that families need to know about what was done with the information gathered about their case? What do agency representatives need to know about what was agreed for those families? Do frontline workers see the full picture when working with families, and do they feel involved in the strategic vision your Chief Executive has set out? Answering these questions will mean their MASH is better equipped and more confident to share information consistently.
We will be publishing more information about the findings and next steps from this MASH workshop, but we hope this gives you some food for thought in the meantime.
You can also use the materials we developed for this workshop, which can be found in the resources area of the site, to help you host your own event.
Keep an eye on our website and Twitter account @InfoShareCOE for updates when further information is published.