Caroline Davis, Engagement Manager
Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing
Working within a matrix team could be a lonely experience, so to ensure our organisation works together when we’re physically engaged in local places as far apart as Cornwall and Durham or Margate and Blackpool, communication is key. Similarly, our work exploring the role of information sharing within multi-agency models has also highlighted the importance of this.
As part of the next steps identified in the Home Office Multi Agency Working and Information Sharing Project – Final report (July 2014), we have been speaking to a number of places about their information sharing experiences during the establishment and on-going development of Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hubs (MASH). In order to meet the needs and structures already in place, each MASH model is unique to its local place, however, one of the key common features (a clue is in the name) is that they all have a multi-agency approach – involving partnership working.
Many places may already feel that they are working well with partners and have confidence that each partner fully understands their roles and responsibilities within safeguarding and supporting families. However, a serious incident or a poor rating from Ofsted can often shine a light on areas that are not as they first seemed, and getting communications right is a key feature within multi-agency working.
‘The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.’ George Bernard Shaw
During our conversations with local places about their MASH models, a number of key themes relating to communication have become clear. As the quote above illustrates, it is important not to presume that messages get heard the first time. Like the importance it plays in our own organisation’s way of working, communication between partners is an ongoing process and different approaches and opportunities need to be taken to reinforce those messages – both strategically and operationally.
Some places have made use of the co-location of a number of organisations and others have a defined decision-making process within a MASH set-up, so that a wider range of partners are involved in decisions made on individual cases. This enables constructive challenges and debates around decisions, but can also reinforce the roles and responsibilities of all organisations in the safeguarding agenda and provision of early help services. These discussions can also help to reinforce thresholds which can be fed back by the organisations’ own staff who are seen as MASH champions, thereby also supporting their learning and development.
During our work in gathering and understanding information sharing requirements within different models, the co-location of staff from a number of organisations has been cited to us as a success. The information gathering and sharing process within MASH models is not just a cut and paste exercise from different agency systems either. Through gathering data information from various IT systems and softer information from meetings, day-to-day conversations on cases provide greater insight into the information held by different partner agencies and, when seen together, these can often change a perspective on the safeguarding needs of a family. The next step is to ask the question: How can this safe, information sharing environment be recreated outside of a hub between practitioners?
This week we are building on the work we have already carried out with a range of different local places, to host a workshop with representatives from a range of different MASHs, including Leicestershire, Bath and North East Somerset, Sandwell and London boroughs. The day-long event will provide a space for participants to share their own experiences, swap good practice and explore common themes around MASH information sharing experiences.
Looking back to our own organisation, we have been finding out the best ways to communicate and support each other in our work, sharing information in a timely and proportionate manner so that we are also best prepared to support places in identifying the benefits of working this way.
To provide further guidance to practitioners on myth busting around long-held views that places can’t share information, the Department for Education has revised its guidance in the document Information sharing: Advice for practitioners providing safeguarding services.
Post-event findings will be published here soon, and 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.