Using and sharing available information in the right way to support families

Caroline Davis Caroline Davis, Engagement Manager
Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing 

Recently my work at the Centre has focused on looking at information sharing challenges for local places working on developing and integrating Multi-Agency Sharing Hubs (MASHs).

At a Supporting Families event I recently attended, the impact of information sharing on supporting families was discussed. There was a consensus of opinion from people I was sitting with that there is a real need to share information to help families. However, during a conversation with a delegate, they felt that often there was too much sharing of information that was not always relevant to family need.

In our experience at the Centre, different professions and services have different approaches when sharing information. Looking at information sharing challenges across MASH teams, I have noticed that once protocols and procedures have been established and there is an understanding of the needs and requirements of partner organisations involved, the sharing of information has not always been a significant issue, as service providers have benefited from the impact that information sharing can have to help and support improved outcomes for families.

At the event, the opening discussion about supporting families introduced theoretical perspectives and models of family support work and intervention, and moved on to look at how services work with complex families. During discussions, some people felt that often when visiting a family for the first time they might go with a biased or negative view of the family because of the information initially provided through the referral process. How could this damage the development of a relationship of honesty and trust between the key-worker and family?

It was agreed that it can be inappropriate and unprofessional to make assumptions based on the initial information provided to them. What this shows about the use of information is that it needs to be used in context, that only pertinent information should be provided at the initial referral point and that further more relevant information can be shared between services when it is required. So the challenge to information sharing here is that too much can be shared initially. Everyone agreed that an open and honest discussion with the family to seek out relevant information was often more useful than what was recorded on a referral form or IT system. But, acknowledging that as the support relationships develops; further information to help the family should and needs to be shared to achieve improved outcomes.

There was an example given, during the discussions, of the impact of seeing and awareness of certain information about a family and how this can impact on interventions or the need to divulge this information. If you visit a family where the initial information provided shows a single parent family with children but you see a single parent living with another adult, how do you proceed? What questions do you ask to understand the relationship and impact on benefit provision or support the family receives?

For example: information sharing has provided you with the knowledge that they are receiving support based on being a single parent family. The round-table discussions about this issue led to agreement that it was important for key-workers and services to build honest, trusting relationships with families so that when new information is shared it does not cause a breakdown of trust with the family or the family to stop accessing much needed services.

Through my work with local places and discussions from the event it is clear is that there are no straight-forward answers on using and sharing information at the right time – every local place has different approaches to individual needs. It did highlight the need for key-workers to be clear on their service’s expectations when challenging information comes to light on a family and the key-workers skills and/or relationship with their line manager and other services to support the approach on how information will be shared and any potential consequences for the family.  However, it is clear that it is about a key-worker establishing a relationship with families and part of this is about being able to be open and honest with a family that information that come to light which contravene legal guidance will need to be shared.