In safeguarding, multi-agency working is an approach that is used in countless different scenarios as a way of taking action, reducing harm and improving the quality of life of individuals affected by things like abuse, neglect or exploitation. As well as being an effective way to minimise the harm caused by abuse, it’s also a very successful way of reducing the risk of abuse in the first place, preventing a lot of damage to children and their families.
In this article, we explain multi-agency working, the benefits of working with others in safeguarding, how this approach reduces the chance of abuse, and discuss why it’s important.
Multi-agency working refers to a way of working that involves professionals from different organisations and employers coming together to collaboratively bring about change. It’s a key part of supporting children and their families who are identified as safeguarding risks or who are dealing with additional needs and is an effective method for improving life outcomes.
Whilst the roots of the multi-agency approach go way back to the 1980s, it was the release of the 2003 ‘Every Child Matters’ report that made this way of working to improve children’s lives and prevent future harm so popular. It is one of the most effective ways of tackling the risk factors that leave children and young people more vulnerable to abuse, neglect and poor outcomes later in life.
There are several different kinds of multi-agency partnerships that are used in safeguarding. The first of these is a multi-agency panel, who are all employed by separate organisations and meet regularly to share information, discuss new cases and decide the most effective ways in which their services can work in tandem with each other.
Another is a multi-agency team, which is more formal than a panel and involves individuals from various backgrounds being recruited into a group that has common goals. These groups use their range of experience not only to help individual cases, but also to help families or even institutions like schools.
Finally, an integrated service is another multi-agency approach where multiple services involved in safeguarding share premises and work collaboratively to provide for the community.
A variety of different organisations and professionals can be involved in multi-agency working depending on the context and the aim of the team. Practitioners can come from educational institutions, youth justice, the healthcare industry, local authorities, mental health services, social care, the voluntary and community sector, youth work, probation departments and other children’s services.
The key benefit of multi-agency working in safeguarding is that it does dramatically reduce the risk of abuse. This happens in several different ways.
First of all, different practitioners often receive different information and are exposed to different scenarios when working with children and vulnerable adults. Sharing these perspectives allows for a full picture to be constructed, and this often allows for signs of potential abuse to be spotted earlier on than if nobody involved had spoken to each other.
Being able to work with people from different professional backgrounds can also provide alternate perspectives on situations where a child may be at risk, where previous experience in other situations can lead to earlier action and harm reduction.
Having a larger bank of resources in the form of multiple practitioners with connections to different agencies means that the responses to safeguarding concerns happen much faster. These responses are also often more specialised depending on the context, meaning that specific needs can be met and problems are resolved much more effectively, reducing the likelihood of further abuse.
Child abuse is often the result of a range of different factors such as housing, money, education, poor health and a lack of support. A multi-agency team can tackle all of these factors at the same time, having a greater impact and reducing the risk of later abuse much faster.
Finally, tackling abuse and other safeguarding issues from multiple angles allows you to get a better idea of where common risk factors evolve from, what common patterns of behaviour lead to abuse, and which services need the most resources allocated to them. Instead of gathering data on an agency level, this bigger picture allows for more effective strategies for reducing and preventing abuse to be developed.
A general benefit of multi-agency working is that it puts less strain on individual practitioners by sharing the workload and the responsibilities involved in protecting vulnerable individuals from abuse. This means that everyone can do their jobs better, leading to a more positive working environment and a higher quality of performance at work.
Multi-agency partnerships allow for best practices and experience to be shared among different organisations, which can lead to improvements in the way that these services work. This allows for a high standard of services across the board, increasing the quality of support given and consequently improving the lives of more people.
From an individual perspective, working in a team of others from different backgrounds allows for skill sharing and greater learning opportunities within work. This leads to the entire team improving in their roles which in turn improves the quality of the service they offer, as well as improving the efficiency of the work done by the team.
The work done by multi-agency teams is also often better for the individuals receiving support or care. Instead of having contact with practitioners from lots of separate agencies who aren’t aware of the work the others are doing, everyone involved understands the support plan and doesn’t need context repeatedly explained. The individual in question is also likely to feel more supported by a team of collaborating professionals, improving their engagement and satisfaction with the support they are given.
Multi-agency working is important because of the benefits it brings to those working in safeguarding and services that work to protect and support children, vulnerable adults and those at risk of abuse. In many cases, it is a more effective approach than individual agencies working without any contact or collaboration, which improves the quality of the services offered.
As discussed above, the approach also reduces the risk of abuse occurring. Not only is this important because it protects a lot of vulnerable individuals from harm, but it removes the need for the involved services to act after the abuse has happened, which frees up more time and resources to prevent more cases of abuse.
Whilst the benefits of working in a multi-agency format definitely outweigh any arguments, there are some challenges associated with this way of working that should be considered as well.
The first of these is that it is much harder to coordinate a team of people who are all responsible for different tasks and often also answer to different managers. Initially, this can lead to hold-ups and disagreements, which can take some time to smooth over.
The working environments that practitioners come from can also differ quite a lot in a multi-agency approach to safeguarding, such as healthcare workers who are used to working seven days a week in comparison to educational staff who work shorter hours and have regular holidays. Workplace culture, expectations and protocols can be hard to integrate, which can lead to friction between team members.
If a multi-agency department is receiving funding and resources in one go then it can be difficult to decide how best to allocate this. There may be services that are under more strain than others, but ensuring that everyone receives the right level of support can be hard.
Whilst collaborative working and sharing information is expected, there can be a lack of understanding about the different responsibilities and roles of each member of a multi-agency team. Communication with everyone can also be tricky, especially when the entire team is rarely all in the same place.
There are also some situations where a multi-agency approach might not be well-received by a child, vulnerable adult or a family. Some individuals may take offence at the suggestion that certain areas of their lives require additional support, which can make them resistant to this approach and reduce its effectiveness.
In safeguarding contexts, multi-agency working refers to an approach that involves professionals from various agencies working together to find safeguarding solutions or provide support for those who have been affected by issues such as abuse or neglect. An example of this is the MARAC response to domestic abuse cases, which consists of a multi-agency approach to protecting victims of domestic violence.
The common assessment framework (CAF), which has now been replaced by the early help assessment (EHA), is an example of how multi-agency working can operate to safeguard children who are identified as at risk of harm. The assessment looks at all aspects of a vulnerable child’s life and then tackles each of these areas through help from different organisations and professionals, all working towards the same goal.
You can read more about the Early Help Assessment form in our article here.
Multi-agency working has been an effective approach to safeguarding for many years and came about because tackling multiple areas of an individual’s situation is a much more effective way of improving it than placing all the emphasis on one particular area. The importance of this way of working was emphasised after the release of the Children Act 2004, which detailed how multi-agency collaboration was an effective part of working towards the five Every Child Matters well-being outcomes.
The importance of multi-agency working in reducing abuse is an essential part of working in safeguarding, no matter the industry or sector you belong to. Whether you’re working as part of a multi-agency team or just weighing up the benefits of interagency partnerships, it’s an effective way of sharing resources, insight and experience to improve the services you offer to those in need of additional support.
If you’d like to find out more about the role that inter-agency working plays in safeguarding, we cover this topic and more in our ‘Safeguarding Children Level 1’ online course, suitable for all practitioners with a safeguarding responsibility.