The need to work together is emphasised so much in social care that it is often taken for granted. But making it happen on the ground is hard work. Recognising this, the Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA) set up the Integrated Workforce Strategy Project in June 2007. The project looks at the benefits of integrating agencies and identifies what works and what doesn’t in seven study areas in six authorities.
Recently published interim findings show that the project found variable progress yet a strong belief in the benefits of integration. However, researchers found few examples of integration on the ground and reported that partners needed to build trust with each other.
Joan Munro, national adviser on workforce strategy at IDeA, which conducted the research, says: “You have to build relationships and trust before you start doing workforce strategies together. We didn’t find many places where they were working across the board on such strategies.”
The study found no uniform pattern in the way partners were choosing to integrate but, overall, integration was more advanced in children’s services than adult social care. Munro says this may be due to the influence of the Every Child Matters initiatives and the government making joint working being made a greater priority in this area.
“People really buy into the Every Child Matters agenda and there’s also been a lot of money behind the Children’s Workforce Development Council. That’s been better funded than Skills for Care [the adult social care workforce body],” she says.
Engaging health partners is difficult in some areas because partnership working is not always a priority for them. “There has been a bit of a problem where health hasn’t always got the same partnership agenda,” says Munro. “If they are being set up for foundation status then partnership working may not be their priority. Both partners must want to dance.”
Some agencies have been tempted to delay integration claiming that partners aren’t ready, or that there are other structural obstacles. Munro warns this can lead to inactivity and says it’s important that councils don’t wait for all partners to be engaged. They should instead focus on where there would be clear benefits from joining up services.
“Be pragmatic, look for where something is doable and do it,” she says. “Don’t be too idealist and try to join up everything. It’s difficult and painful and you have to be clear that it’s going to deliver benefits.”
Chris Stephenson, interim joint assistant director for human resources at Tower Hamlets Council and Primary Care Trust in London, says the jury is still out on whether partnership working is worthwhile across all agencies.
“Don’t have a partnership because it’s the sexy thing to do,” he says. “Don’t have a partnership just because central government will you give you money. You have to believe that partnership will actually add to what you are doing.”
Wrangles over small details can also lead to blockages in the process. Stephenson says professionals should focus on the needs of clients rather than issues such as whether their colleagues have more annual leave than they do.
Stephenson says: “Are you going to die in a ditch over something like that? No. The biggest challenge is when you are dealing with partnerships between the public and private sector and there are some issues there,” he says.
Difficulty in recruiting staff is a problem for almost all public bodies, and councils often compete with their local partners for employees. Agencies often also have competing targets which increase this pressure.
Munro says that in Shropshire the local strategic partnership (a multi-agency partnership between the public, private and voluntary sectors) found that public sector bodies had targets for ethnic minority recruitment which they could not meet because they were trying to attract the same people.
Lack of strategy
She says that by joining up their workforce strategies agencies can avoid such competition and better use the pool of available people. She says regional bodies, such as sector skills councils and local government offices for the regions, should back up this work by providing regional solutions for workforce challenges.
The project found that where there was a lack of strategy on joint working among agencies and individuals and the nature of relationships often determined progress. In many areas partnerships were hindered by a lack of resources and other demands taking priority.
Government literature is quick to praise integration but departments often fail to practise what they preach. Competing national initiatives, which do not always join up, and the range of inspection regimes can impede progress. Political imperatives also lead to a surfeit of initiatives and a lack of time being allowed for changes to bed in.
Munro says successful integration does not happen overnight and is slow, something that needs to be recognised by both the government and partners themselves.
“There’s a hunger to find out about this stuff,” she says. In some way people want the quick and easy answers but there’s no magic wand. There’s no blueprint. It’s hard work. The government wants quick results but people need time to build up those structures.”
“Multi-agency training is platform for joining up”
Barnet in north London is the second largest borough in the capital and has a children’s workforce of 20,000. In an attempt to bring about more joint working the council, which is one of the six involved in the IDeA study, has decided to create a common core training programme. It consists of six areas, such as safeguarding and transition, and make it available to all children’s services employees.
The programme started in January 2007 and Delphine Garr, workforce development and learning manager at the council, says it allows people to share ideas who may not otherwise come into contact.
“We are looking at using the programme as a tool for integration. Multi-agency training brings people together and provides the opportunity for different language to be explained and for people to explore their commonality,” she says.
Common core training
The training has two levels, certificate level, which consists of six days of training, and graduate level, which consists of six half days, and is accredited by Middlesex University. Garr says this was essential to getting people on board.
“Our workforce said ‘if you are going to make us have common core training then it’s got to be accredited’,” she says.
Between April 2007 and March 2008, 550 people completed the training. It is not mandatory but the council is working towards making it part of the induction process.
Tony Nakhimoff, the council’s organisational development manager, says more work needs to be done on advertising the programme.
“We have only had low levels of publicity. Given that we are talking about 20,000 people it’s about how we get that message out.”
“You don’t need to know every detail in advance”
After the death of three women who were victims of domestic violence in Walsall over a period of two years, local partners felt the need to act and improve their service. Walsall is one local authority area covered by the IDeA study.
Lesley Walker, head of the vulnerable children’s service at the council, says: “From a children’s services point of view we were also having significant numbers of referrals and we felt we had to do something different.”
In August 2007 the Walsall Domestic Abuse Response Team (Dart) service was created. This is operated in partnership with voluntary sector body the Walsall Domestic Violence Forum and consists of multi-agency teams spanning agencies including the council, probation and the police as well as the forum itself.
The service operates a screening process and then puts women and children in touch with a tiered set of services depending on their needs.
Walker says the service has had a positive impact in terms of women and children receiving support and assessments as opposed to cases being referred straight to children’s services and treated as a child protection issue.
She says the new service is much faster than its predecessor and includes perpetrator programmes, which many authorities are lacking.
Walker says councils should integrate services without waiting for every detail to be finalised in advance.
“We didn’t know who would provide what and what the funding arrangements would be. We thought that if we got stuck on those issues we would never have got it started.”
This article is published in the 16 October edition of Community Care under the headline “United front”