If your organisation works with children you need to know about the move towards integrated working. But what exactly does it mean, how does it work in practice, and what are the implications for the third sector)?
Integrated working is defined as “everyone supporting children and young people working together effectively to put the child at the centre, meet their needs and improve their lives”.
Making this a reality on the ground is proving to be a complex task, but work is underway to introduce shared practices and procedures that seek to break down operational barriers. To be fully integrated, however, people who work with children need more than just a set of procedures; increasingly, staff are coming together in multi-agency panels or teams. In these configurations, specialist staff are still employed by a specific statutory body, but they will either meet regularly to discuss specific children, or work together day-to-day on a particular issue such as youth offending. The more advanced approach is a fully integrated service, where all the relevant professionals work together in one location to offer a range of support to children and their families.
Integrated working is still at an early stage of implementation. The approaches outlined above have tended to be focused on a specific geographical area, community or client group and have often been introduced as a pilot; it seems we are still some distance from the vision of the whole system working in an integrated way. One important stumbling block is culture: staff coming from different agencies may have a very different approach to their fellow professionals - for example in relation to the involvement that the child should have in decisions made about them. Integration is happening at different speeds, with some professional groups more integrated than others; most commonly, staff from health, the justice system and schools were least likely to be involved.
To date, support for integrated working has tended to focus on bringing together staff from statutory agencies, but what about the third sector? Engagement is inconsistent across the country, despite staff from the sector feeling that they have something to contribute. Indeed, if we consider the definition of integrated working, it is clear that full and effective integration could not be achieved without the involvement of the third sector. Voluntary organisations are often the first point of contact for children and families who are disengaged from, or distrustful of, government agencies; the third sector can therefore reach out to children who might otherwise fall off the radar. The sector is also an important provider of services to children – from playgroups to sports clubs and Scouts – and so part of the holistic picture of children’s lives. Do your statutory colleagues know about the contact your organisation has with children and have you been invited to take part in integrated working initiatives? If not, why not?
For more information about integrated working, see www.everychildmatters.gov.uk/