England’s attempts to integrate children’s services may have been undermined by the policy emphasis on child protection according to a new study which compared international systems.
The review of countries around the world attempting some form of integration of children’s services by the National Foundation for Educational Research (nfer) and the CfBT Education Trust found that England had the most ambitious integration agenda under the Every Child Matters agenda.
However, in those countries, like England, where the catalyst for integration had been child protection concerns, the researchers noted that there was a tendency to defensiveness on the part of professionals “who do not wish to be seen as the guilty party in a child protection case”.
“Ironically, it seems that this can discourage communication and collaboration with other agencies,” the report’s conclusion stated.
However, the report noted that in those countries where prevention was the primary motivation for integration “practitioners feel more professionally empowered and encouraged to spend time on key communication activities”.
The study also noted that the evidence base showing the impact of integration on outcomes was “relatively weak”. The conclusion points out that “frustratingly, most research evidence concerns the processes of integrated working rather than the measurement of outcomes”. The most substantial body of evidence refers to the beneficial impact of integration of services in early years.
The report found that the key areas agencies needed to focus on for successful multi-agency working included joint planning, standard operating procedures for intervention and common training.
Paul Keenleyside. assistant director for youth support and guidance for the CfBT Education Trust, said he felt the study was positive but proved that integration had to happen at a strategic level and policy makers needed to be aware of the risks associated with the current child protection model. “That’s why in England we’re seeing amongst local authorities a variety of practices cropping up that are all trying to square the circle. We need a stronger vision of what we’re trying to achieve together.
“The study also shows that communication and collaborative skills are the most important elements for successful integration and in England they are under-developed so that is why we’re perhaps not being as successful as we would want to be.”