The extended school environment can help to strengthen multi-agency relationships
Title: The Value of Social Care Professionals Working in Extended Schools
Authors: Anne Wilkin, Jenny Murfield, Emily Lamont, Kay Kinder and Paul Dyson
Institution: National Foundation for Educational Research
The extended schools agenda is seen by government as key to delivering Every Child Matters as part of a growing national emphasis on joint working.
A growing body of evidence highlights the potential benefits of extended services in schools, including improving motivation, behaviour, attendance and achievement of pupils. Research indicates that, where early extended schools had targeted disadvantaged children and those in difficulties, the achievement gap was narrowed and better social outcomes were produced.
OBJECTIVES AND METHODS
The integrated working agenda in local authority children’s services necessitates closer working relationships between education and social care professionals. Against this, the National Foundation for Educational Research examined the role of social care professionals in schools that provide extended services and in children’s centres, from the viewpoint of social care strategic managers, practitioners and service users. Specifically, the research aimed to:
- Identify and audit different models of co-ordinated and multi-agency activity between social care professionals, extended schools and children’s centres.
- Explore the value-added element of involving social care professionals in extended schools and children’s centres.
- Ascertain the extent to which this arrangement provided an appropriate arena to fulfil the social care remit of service aims.
- Identify the benefits and challenges of this type of service integration.
The research had four components. First, a survey was conducted of all 150 local authorities in England responses were received from 57. Follow-up telephone interviews were carried out with key contacts in 38 authorities. Six authorities were selected to take part in in-depth case studies, representing a range of service provision, working practices and target groups. Face-to-face interviews were conducted with service users (children and young people and their parents), practitioners, pupil support officers, and other key stakeholders such as head teachers and social care managers. Altogether, 66 people were interviewed. Finally, a review of the literature was conducted. The authors highlight key findings from research identified in this review.
MODELS OF INTEGRATED WORKING
Most social care involvement in extended schools and children’s centres was focused on proactive, preventive initiatives and was targeted below thresholds for specialist intervention. Social care staff worked with the young person and family unit as a whole, and undertook activities relating to advice, guidance, support and signposting to other services. Most work followed one of four models of integrated working:
- Family/pupil support workers, usually unqualified social care professionals, based in or linked to extended schools and/or children’s centres. These workers offered services such as mentoring, parenting and family support including parenting courses, signposting to specialist provision, and support with transitions such as from nursery to primary school.
- Experienced/qualified social care professionals working with or linked to extended schools and/or children’s centres. These professionals intervened with higher levels of need than less qualified staff, including crisis intervention work.
- Social work trainee placements in schools and, in one case, a children’s centre Trainees’ work could include group work and individual intervention, for example in relation to peer relationships, self-esteem, behaviour, and family work and support.
- Training for school staff, provided by social care professionals. Examples included training in child protection and engaging disabled children and young people.
As these working models indicate, it was not seen as essential that social care workers in school should be qualified social workers. Most interviewees felt that unqualified social care professionals could play a useful role in early intervention. Local authorities often used a combination of these models, although more than one-third of those responding had yet to integrate social care professionals within schools providing extended services (though this was being planned in nine).
The location of social care professionals in schools’ extended services raised challenges familiar to other studies of the development of integrated working. These included:
- Cultural change and the development of common understandings of different professional roles.
- Capacity issues.
- Tensions in relation to thresholds for social care intervention.
However, interviewees did not see these challenges as insurmountable. Rather, they were part of a process of change.
This study described three over-arching benefits from social care involvement in schools that were reported consistently by interviewees across local authorities. These were:
- Earlier identification of needs and quicker access to services.
- A better understanding of roles and responsibilities between social care and education colleagues.
- A more coherent, holistic package of support for children and families.
Benefits specific to social care professionals included an increase in professional support for staff because agencies had greater shared responsibilities and less duplication of services through multi-agency working. The benefits specific to schools were described as an enhanced capacity to meet national and local targets, with improved communication with families and improvements in pupil attendance and behaviour.
Benefits for children and young people included:
- Improvements in learning and wellbeing, particularly for self-esteem and confidence.
- Reduced stigma and tensions associated with social care because basing social care professionals at the school meant they were regarded as part of the school community.
- Younger people underwent fewer assessments with different agencies, reducing the time spent out of the classroom.
Benefits for families and the wider community centred on improvements in support for their children – through earlier intervention and better access to support – and enhanced awareness of local services.
In a policy context, where national and local government agendas for children’s services continue to prioritise the development of integrated working, the research highlights several implications for practice development. They conclude that the extended school environment is an ideal place to strengthen multi-agency relationships, develop a common language and shared understandings between social care and education, and reduce long-standing tensions.
The authors suggest that many of the challenges identified in their research will dissipate as we move closer to the government’s targets for the development of extended services through schools by 2010. In other European countries, it is common for social care professionals to be employed in schools. The research indicates the benefits of social care provision in schools in England – bringing social care expertise to early intervention with children, young people and families in universal children’s services.
Janet Boddy is a researcher at the Thomas Coram Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London
Communication and information exchange: Streamlined communication and information exchange is vital to developing social care in extended services provided by schools. Crucial to this are IT systems that enabled information sharing and quick access to information, and by multi-agency steering groups and training.
Clear partnership arrangements and remits: Including strategic-level engagement in initiatives, and management of expectations of school staff through consultation, evaluation and review, helped to ensure clarity about referral procedures and thresholds, and confidentiality and governance issues.
Management structures: To support trainees and professionals in schools, including opportunities for supervision, as well as clarity over trainees’ roles and responsibilities.
Consultation: Consultation with schools and with the local community in the development and evaluation of services contributed to a sense of shared ownership in joint-working initiatives, and helped to overcome potential resistance from schools.
Child-centred approach: Development of a child- and family-centred approach to service delivery necessitated awareness-raising to address the perceived stigma of social care involvement, and the involvement of young people, families, and the local community in consultation and in the design of services.
Awareness of service: Awareness-raising of services available in (or through) the school and to the community helped to ensure that professionals and potential service users were aware of provision in their locality.
LINKS AND RESOURCES
This article is published in the 23 April edition of Community Care magazine under the headline A professional’s place in extended schools