Reaching out

Imogen Fuller, Engagement Manager
Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing



In the world of public services we spend a lot of time trying to make sure that our services help those most in need, and can be accessed by everyone who needs them.

Often we talk about making sure we can support those who are the most vulnerable in our society, especially those who mainstream services can find ‘hard to reach’.  Without targeted support, these individuals can easily fall through the gaps, becoming visible to local service providers only when their problems reach a crisis point (for example, when the ambulance is called out, or the police are required to step in).

But what has this got to do with information sharing?  Well, finding and helping vulnerable people before crisis hits, requires information to be gathered about local people’s needs and then shared by different agencies, so co-ordinated support can be put in place at an early stage.

There are a number of different approaches which multi-agency partnerships take to identify and support their residents’ needs.  Localities can start with population level information to identify a target group of people with particular needs, or they can start by identifying a local area in which residents are facing a range of problems; such as high levels of anti-social behaviour or poor quality housing conditions. Using teams of ‘door knockers’, they can then approach and talk to as many people in the area as possible, to identify individual and group needs.

Understanding what information needs to be gathered and shared, and the different approaches to doing this is something that that we are exploring.  We are doing this by working with and visiting a number of local places who are using a ‘door knocking’ approach to reach out to their local communities, and who use guided conversations to identify needs and facilitate multi-agency support by :

  • Signposting, referring  and/or supporting local people to access existing services, and
  • Gaining consent for the information gathered about them to be passed on to other agencies, enabling the support they receive to be co-ordinated, joined up, more efficient, and provided without the need for them to tell their story over and over again.

Through my work, I’ve been lucky enough to see how this kind of approach is being used to support information sharing and service transformation in a number of different places.  Slightly different approaches are taken in each place, reflecting local needs, but in all three of the places we’ve visited – Margate, Blackpool and Nottinghamshire – there are a core set of common factors:

  • There are no eligibility criteria except geography.
  • The approach is applied to small geographical areas (although in Blackpool this approach is being rolled out to cover other parts of the town centre, using the same ‘small area’ approach).
  • Limited, if any, information is known about the individual in advance of them being contacted through the ‘door knocking.’
  • Staff work in pairs or groups (for safety and breadth of knowledge)
  • It is proactive outreach approach delivered by multi-agency teams to provide co-ordinated and wide reaching support.
  • The process of ‘door knocking’ and the subsequent home visits act as a mechanism by which to talk to clients about the need for / benefits of sharing information with other agencies, and to gain their consent.

In Margate and Blackpool, the ‘door knocking’ activity is focused on areas which have been identified as affected by multiple issues.  These can range from high levels of transience, and crime, to poor quality private rented accommodation and high density of accommodation, often as a result of high numbers of Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMOs).  A proactive, systematic approach to door knocking is used to cover the whole area, and is carried out by teams involving staff from two or more different public services, with the teams approaching every household on a street by street basis over a specified period of time.

In Sutton in Ashfield, they have set up a multi-agency support team for the ward of New Cross, where individuals are only approached (to identify and help address their needs) when the opportunity to contact them arises.  This results from:

  • The resident contacting the council’s street scene team to request a service which requires a follow up call or visit (such as a bulky waste collection)
  • A ‘referral’ made by a concerned friend, family member or neighbour who is aware of the pilot service in the area.  This is generated by positive ‘word of mouth’ messages about the work of the support team within the local community.
  • A limited set of direct referrals from partner agencies linked to repeat/ongoing problems.  Initially these referrals were only taken from the police, street scene, and community safety team (for example, the police referring ongoing neighbour disputes), but are being expanded to include referrals from social care, schools, fire service, and trading standards as capacity allows.

In New Cross they have found that this approach means that they are finding people who are either; not known to any services or might never have approached agencies for support, until they reach crisis point.

A relatively new team (set up in September 2014, as part of the Nottingham Prevent Strategy, with funding from the DCLG Transformation Fund), members of the New Cross Support Team are seconded from the Police, Fire Service, Job Centre Plus, Catch 22 Community Project and primary health care. There are also good links with the Children, Families and Cultural Services department, and there are plans to recruit an adult services social worker.

Team members from different agencies are co-located in the New Cross team hub, but still have access to their ‘home’ organisation’s information systems, so the team benefits from access to a range of different sources of information.

An example of how this access is used is the team’s novel approach to case finding using requests for street scene services.  By following up on requests, such as a quote for a bulky waste collection, members of the New Cross team have an opportunity to start a conversation with the resident, which includes asking them about any other needs they might have and introducing the offer of support available.

Made possible by regular sharing of the’ jobs list’ from the Flare database used by Street Scene with the New Cross team leader.  The jobs list is analysed by the team leader to identify, and take responsibility for, a number of jobs in the pilot area which require a conversation with the resident.  If, following this initial conversation, the local person accepts the team’s offer of help they become part of the Support Team’s caseload and consent is gained (as the result of a conversation with the individual) for information about their needs to be shared with other services as appropriate.

The New Cross team have made contact with the frontline staff in most other public and charitable sector organisations working with local residents.  As these frontline staff see the benefit of working with the New Cross team, such as reducing demand on mainstream services, they help build links within their own organisations, for example by asking managers about referral arrangements and feeding this back to the team.

In addition, once the New Cross team have consent from the family or individual to share their information with other appropriate agencies, it not only opens doors into the relevant services for the clients but also for the staff within the New Cross team, as by bringing with them consent and information from the client they have something to offer potential partners.

New Cross Support Team – Examples of their work and its impact

Responding to a neighbour’s concerns, the team contacted an elderly man with mental health issues who was living in a house with a large hole in the floor.  This man was not known to any local services at this point but as a result of intervention by the team, he is now receiving help, and having consented to having relevant information about him shared with appropriate agencies, is accessing a range of support services.

A local couple were referred to the team by the police linked to a number of complaints from neighbours about the couple and complaints from the couple about their neighbours.  When the team visited, it turned out that the couple were on benefits but were living within their means.  They therefore had a lot of time on their hands and so were in the house all day.  As a result, they were conscious about noise from their neighbours during the day and were also complained about as they had their own telly on during the day and used remote control vehicles at home.  The team looked at access to courses to increase the level of skill and volunteering work in preparation for work readiness, which also got the couple out the house, which resulted in no calls being made to the police.

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