How the police can help social workers assess risk

Former senior police officer Nigel Boulton looks at how the police approach risk and why the future lies in multi-agency assessment teams, as now being investigated by the Munro Review

Former senior police officer Nigel Boulton looks at how the police approach risk and why the future lies in multi-agency assessment teams, as now being investigated by the Munro Review

I was a police officer for 31 years and from personal experience I do not think police officers or social workers view actual risk much differently when they can see the picture in front of them. Both professions have to deal with various levels of frontline experience and abilities and both sets of frontline staff can become sanitised to risk and harm through constant exposure to it.

My concern for years has been that both sets of professionals are working in isolation a lot of the time and have to make decisions about risk without a true understanding of the information which would enable them to make the most appropriate and proportionate decisions and interventions.

When social care staff, the police or any partner is presented with a pretty clear risk they tend to react and interact with partners reasonably well. They share information and deliver an intervention. In essence when the risk is clear they do something to mitigate it.

Where the services differ

Where I think the two services may differ is in their desire to inform the intelligence picture in order to understand the risk or an issue. The police service is possibly more used to working like this because that is the way it is taught to think and operate in all its investigative activity and through its command delivery.

The problem is that the risk decision is actually held by social care departments and there are many staff who have to make difficult decisions without the benefit of the knowledge of other partners.

Most police forces routinely advise social care of a multitude of interactions with children by police. This is hugely infuriating to social work departments and is causing them to drown in notifications. They end up being unable to identify which referral may or may not need action. But if you put professionals and their information together you can stop the flood through a better understanding of the risk.

The solution

The multi-agency safeguarding hub (Mash) model, which I developed and helped put in place in Devon and Cornwall, deals with this issue. It enables the true risks to be identified at the earliest opportunity so that appropriate and proportionate interventions can be made. Put simply it allows you to see the wood for the trees.

The police service rigorously teaches its officers that the best possible decisions at any given time will be made based on the fullest information and intelligence picture. It is also engrained that the information picture always needs to be re-assessed and enhanced if possible and not just accepted at face value.

Herein lies the value of Mash for all partners. It delivers intelligence assessment and analysis to a wide safeguarding partnership. Everyone gains a better picture and is therefore able to make much better informed decisions.

Strangely enough it will also save money. Reducing unnecessary and costly interventions as well as being better positioned to make earlier interventions must be a good thing.

Multi-agency safeguarding hub

Multi-agency safeguarding hubs see frontline professionals including police officers, social workers and health and education representatives working together to assess all children’s services referrals.

Because they can access the information held by each agency on a family or child, information is shared at the earliest opportunity leading to a more complete assessment of risk. The system not only means referrals are dealt better but the number that children’s social workers have to deal with should fall.

Met assistant commissioner Ian McPherson, the children and young people lead for the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), comments that the hubs make joint analysis, joint decision making and joint action “an exciting vision that has become a reality”.

“There will undoubtedly be differences in thinking and culture between social services and the police as there is between any partners from different organisations. However, by bringing teams together under one roof and working closely together we can develop a new efficient high performance culture the multi-agency culture.”

Nigel Boulton has recently retired from the police service to run his own consultancy. He was formerly deputy commander for Devon and head of crime operations. Click here for further information

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