Why teams hold the key to some client groups

Crispin Truman describes the benefits of team-working with
clients who have multiple needs.

In most social welfare agencies, workers “key work” their own
case load. This ensures clear lines of responsibility for meeting
those clients’ needs. It also means that clients know who is
dealing with their case and who to contact when they need help. The
key worker system is successful because it is based on developing a
human relationship and trust between the professional workers and
clients in need.

However, the experiences of the Revolving Doors Agency suggest
that when you are working with people with multiple, complex needs,
it may be time to reconsider. Revolving Doors works with people
with mental health needs who have come into contact with police and
prisons. As this client group often has a range of needs, it is
important that our staff have different skills and backgrounds to
meet their needs.

So, we have adopted a team approach to our casework, which was
first introduced to the UK by the Tulip Mental Health Group in
Haringey, north London.

The team approach, in which clients’ needs are met by a team of
staff, works for us. It means that clients benefit from the range
of skills of the whole team. It also means that they can get hold
of someone who knows them when one particular worker is on leave,
off sick or otherwise unable to see their clients. In our view,
clients receive a more reliable and effective service. And
professionals from other agencies can always get hold of a member
of the team who knows the case, making joint work easier and more

The team approach improves staff communication and overcomes the
isolation sometimes felt by individuals working on their own. By
working together in a team, staff get the chance to share their
thoughts and concerns about challenging and demanding clients.

This approach to team work can be time-consuming. Extra time has
to be put aside each day for the team to discuss casework. But it
means that staff work together and learn from each other much more.
This is particularly helpful in multi-disciplinary teams as each
team member can share and trade their different skills, knowledge
and experience.

Staff at Revolving Doors seem to like the team system. In a
profession where job turnover is high, we have a good record of
retaining staff. The six original staff in our three projects –
which work with people with mental health problems who had been
picked up by the police – all remained in post for three years.

We are a small experimental agency whose client group has
particularly complex problems and needs. But for us, working in
multi-disciplinary teams has worked. Key working, will always be
the right approach in many circumstances, but our experience of
developing a truly multi-disciplinary team approach shows that
there are alternative models for delivering services to clients in
need. Perhaps you should give it a try.

Crispin Truman is the director of Revolving Doors

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