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Practitioner perspectives on inter-agency joint protocols

Parental mental illness, substance misuse and domestic violence are common risk factors for the maltreatment and neglect of children. Safeguarding children is everyone’s responsibility, including professionals working primarily with adults.

In 2009 the Social Care Institute for Excellence published Think Child, Think Parent, Think Family to remind mental health professionals (amongst others) that some of the people they work with are also parents. It supports practitioners to consider the needs of families rather than just individuals. This does not mean making a referral to children’s social care and leaving it at that. It requires working with the whole family and not just the individual with a mental health problem.

At about the same time, Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs) were established to ensure that all agencies work together to safeguard children. Many LSCBs developed multi-agency joint protocols to enhance collaboration, but there is limited evidence of their effectiveness.

With colleagues in the London Borough of Southwark, I conducted a cross-sectional survey of practitioner self-reported experiences of joint protocols to evaluate their impact on professional practice. A self-complete questionnaire was administered to all professionals in adult mental health and children’s social care services in the borough and yielded a response from 119 practitioners. The findings are published in the May issue of Child and Family Social Work.

The survey found that the protocols had been widely disseminated in the Borough and provided clear guidance to practitioners. Practitioners perceived that they had increased awareness of the risk factors for safeguarding children and some had used the protocols to help them gain access to services for their clients. Practitioners also perceived that they had improved inter-agency working between children’s social care and adult mental health services. However, respondents indicated that positive interpersonal contact with practitioners from other agencies was equally important in promoting joint working and inter-agency collaboration.

The study was limited to capturing only the self-reported perspectives of practitioners, which meant that it was difficult to verify if the joint protocols had achieved a real change in working practices or had a measurable impact on people who used the services. We also achieved a low response rate from the mental health professionals, so it was possible that only those who had read the protocols participated in the survey. Longitudinal studies involving a control group not receiving the protocols, including measures of their impact on individuals and families, are required to establish the full effectiveness of joint protocols.

However, notwithstanding its potential bias, the survey findings indicate that joint protocols can positively support inter-agency working relationships. Whilst interpersonal contact between practitioners in different teams and different agencies appears key to joining-up services, joint protocols can clarify referral pathways and help practitioners secure access to services for the families they are working with.

The paper’s abstract can be found here: Webber, M., McCree, C. & Angeli, P. (2013) Inter-agency joint protocols for safeguarding children in social care and adult mental health agencies: a cross-sectional survey of practitioner experiences. Child and Family Social Work, 18 (2) 149-158.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you would like a PDF copy of the paper.

One thought on “Practitioner perspectives on inter-agency joint protocols

  1. Nick Hervey says:

    Glad to see this piece of work has been researched, although I agree it is difficult to know to what extent it has impacted in practice, and what other measures would signal the success of closer inter-departmental working – have there been less Part 8 Inquiries, have less children been involved in hospital A&E visits, have less children required care proceedings? Good to see Paul and Chris in print with you.
    My own experience of reading the protocols and using them is that they were really helpful in providing succinct but clear guidance in layman’s language. Hope you get funding for a more detailed study,
    But I think you will need clearer outcome measures

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