Trust, Transparency and Transformation: Developing a multi-agency information sharing culture when working with families

Joanna Huxton

Joanna Huxton, National Liaison Manager
Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing



Jovian Smalley


Jovian Smalley, Engagement  Manager 
Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing


This multi-agency approach to working with families was the focus of a recent conference hosted by the Connecting Families team at B&NES. The purpose of the day, as Divisional Director Richard Baldwin explained in his opening address, was to help teams and agencies in B&NES to build relationships. The conference provided a fantastic opportunity to explore the benefits of working alongside families to give them the practical support they need to thrive and achieve.  The event also saw the launch of a film showcasing the success of partners working together on the B&NES Connecting Families programme. The film highlights the huge impact of building relationships and trust early between services and families.

The key-note speaker, author and writer Jane Evans, reiterated this theme in an inspirational talk about dealing positively with childhood trauma in families. She quoted Bruce D. Perry in The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog: “Relationships matter – the currency for systemic change [is] trust.” Relationships and trust are integral in the context of information sharing: agencies need to trust each other that the information they share about the families they have supported for some time will be used sensitively and appropriately.

The theme of increasing trust and transparency to deliver transformation was reflected in the workshop the Centre delivered. This session gave delegates the opportunity to think about how they could overcome the cultural challenges of using and sharing multi-agency information effectively to support families.  We facilitated round-table discussions to draw out local examples of successes, barriers and solutions to developing a multi-agency information sharing culture across services in B&NES.  The need to build relationships and trust to share information better were apparent from these discussions.

Delegates were keen to highlight technical solutions like single databases, and support from national organisations including more guidance or changes to legislation. But they told us that this was only part of the puzzle. Strong local leadership was required to endorse the principles of integrated working and enable practitioners to trust that information would be shared appropriately. And organisational training and development was required to provide transparency about when and how to share information in a multi-agency environment. As one delegate put it, “information sharing is a constant educational process!”

During the workshop session another barrier and challenge that attendees identified were the specific challenges to information sharing in building relationships with health providers. The second phase of the Troubled Families programme places greater emphasis on reaching families with a range of physical and mental health problems. So sharing health information will be integral to its success. A new national ‘health offer’ was launched in November, which aims to provide transparency on how health professionals and councils can work together to support families through greater information sharing. This work will be integral to the continuing success of the Connecting Families approach locally.

At the same time, we heard really positive examples of health providers working together, including the Early Childhood allocation meetings which bring together teams from health visiting and children’s centres where collaborative discussions take place to support children and families. As one attendee commented, “It’s great to have Connecting Families integrated with Social Care. These are new ways of working and help build the relationships.” So, despite the often-cited barrier of services working to different agendas, building new relationships in a transparent way enables practitioners in these services to trust each other.

So this brings us back to the three key principles of the Troubled Families programme, and how these underpin successful multi-agency working:

Trust – Leadership endorses information sharing and the workforce receive the support they need to share confidently
Transformation –  The partnership takes a truly multi-agency approach to how they work together to achieve better outcomes for families being supported
Transparency – Strong relationships and trust develop a multi-agency culture with a clear understanding of why information is shared, what information to share and how.

Is it time we all asked how ‘Thinking Family’ can transform public services?