Organisation submitting example
Devon County Council and Devon Partnership
Local authority/local area:
The context and rationale
Summary of the service redesign
The Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) is an innovative new initiative to safeguard Devon’s children and families. The vision is to identify and make safe at the earliest opportunity all vulnerable people in our communities through the sharing of information and intelligence across the safeguarding partnership. (The full report can be viewed here).
Why was the MASH set up?
Nationally there has been a recognition, through enquiries, serious case reviews and research, that there are weaknesses in the way that a range of agencies and individuals, who are separately in contact with a child at risk, share pertinent information with each other (Laming Review 2009).
Locally, in 2008, a multi agency audit commissioned by the Devon Safeguarding Children’s Board highlighted difficulties, in line with national themes, in relation to information sharing across the Devon Partnership.
In response to the audit, key strategic champions from within the partnership began to develop the concept of the MASH. The fundamental aim was to improve outcomes and the safeguarding of children through more effective information sharing and decision making.
In the current political climate there is a recognition of the impact of the country’s most needy families on society. The MASH is potentially a catalyst for social change, and being able to identify the future needy families, trying to break the generational cycles and identifying the multiple risk factors that can put children at future risk, is the way forward. This links with the coalition government’s Early Intervention Grant and the view that ‘intervening early to stop problems developing has to be the best way of preventing bigger and more expensive problems’. (http://www.education.gov.uk/childrenandyoungpeople/earlylearningandchildcare/delivery/funding/a0070357/eig-faqs)
Objectives of the MASH
1) Improved safeguarding decision making at the point of referral.
2) Early identification of harm and risk.
3) Improved interface with Early Intervention Services.
Devon took the approach of implementing the process in practice rather than undertaking a full project management process. Devon and Cornwall Constabulary provided accommodation free of charge for a year, and strategic champions identified existing staffing to work within the MASH. The MASH was rolled out in stages across Devon between April 2010 and April 2011.
The Devon partnership has agreed that governance of the MASH rests with Social Care; this is to reflect the local authorities’ statutory responsibilities in respect of the Children’s Act 1989 and 2004 (see Appendix 2 in the full submission).
The MASH is predominantly co-located. There are some agencies that have a virtual interface, and provide information via email. The MASH currently consists of (see Appendix 3 in the full submission):
• Children’s Social Care
• Probation (virtual)
• Youth Offending Team (virtual)
• Children and Adolescent Mental Health Service (virtual)
• Early Years and Families (virtual)
• CAFCASS (proposed)
• Adult Mental Health.
The MASH is a multi agency group of people who work together but continue to be employed by their own agencies. The MASH does not have any operational staff: its purpose is to build an intelligence picture to inform better decision making. This does not replace the assessment process in local children’s social care assessment teams.
The concept of the MASH is a secure environment where agencies feel safe in sharing potentially sensitive and confidential information that will inform decision making. This necessitates the MASH operating a ‘sealed intelligence hub’, where protocols (see Appendix 4 in the full submission) govern how and what information can be released from the intelligence unit to operational staff.
The MASH in Devon is now the single point of contact for all safeguarding enquiries (previously referral and contacts had been to Children’s Social Care) and police child concern referrals (e.g. Merlins).
Many local authorities have difficulty in managing the high number of child concern referrals received from the police (in Devon, named 121as). Historically, Children’s Social Care in Devon received all police 121as direct, ranging from minor incidents to serious child protection concerns. Currently, 121a Evaluators (police officers) review all 121as across Devon, review the connected logs and previous police history, and risk assess the cases. The officers are able to view the Social Care system, and see whether cases are open. The 121a Evaluators then only send through 121as that they consider need a response from social care, or forward the information straight to the allocated worker.
Alongside managing the safeguarding enquiries, the MASH has also set up an interface with the Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC) process within Devon, and the Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) process. There is also a link with the Missing Children sub group.
The MASH takes ‘MASH enquiries’ rather than referrals to Social Care. One of the outcomes of a MASH enquiry could be a referral to Social Care.
Initial enquiry-taken information fed into IT system currently hosted on CareFirst 6 (Devon’s electronic social care record), core data updated
Initial enquiry triaged by qualified social worker, and rating assigned to case (red, amber or green – this decides the urgency of the case) (See appendix 5 in the full submission)
Request sent to business resource team to enter information to spreadsheet, and to request information from agencies
Business resource team send out secure email to partner agencies with enquiry information and household composition, requesting information held by those agencies to help inform decision making
Agencies respond to information request, highlighting information that is sensitive. Agency also gives information a rating (red, amber or green), highlighting if they feel their information makes the decision more urgent
When the case is due to have a decision made, a Practice Manager will review all information and make a decision regarding whether a referral is made.
If an enquiry is made to the MASH of a Child Protection nature, this will be highlighted to a Practice Manager or social worker immediately for discussion with the police, although this information can still go through the information gathering process. If an immediate response is needed this can be forwarded to locality teams.
Achievements so far
At this stage, we are confident that the MASH has led to improved decision making, regarding what is, and what is not, a safeguarding concern.
Initially it was hoped the MASH would bring a decrease in the number of contacts, referrals, re-referrals and initial assessments to Children’s Social Care, due to more informed decision making at an earlier stage, and the ability to signpost to appropriate services.
It is hoped that the MASH will improve outcomes for children. For example, fewer incidents of domestic violence, reduction in the number of children subject to a Child Protection Plan, reduction in the rates of teenage pregnancy. It is important to understand that this measurement of ‘outcomes’ for children is an evaluation of services outside of the MASH, as well as an evaluation of the MASH’s success in the identification of harm and future harm, and improved decision making.
The MASH process is a method of identifying children and families that may require intervention. At this stage it is too early in the development of the MASH to reliably evidence the impact of the service on outcomes for children.
Due to the fact that the MASH has been rolled out in stages, it has only been operational for the whole of Devon since April 2011. This means that any performance data generated needs to be treated with a level of caution, due to the short time frame.
Initial projections show that:
• In 2009/10 there were 18,000 contacts and referrals to social care. In 2011/12, this is projected to be 10,000.
• There has been a 13% decrease in referrals to Children’s Social Care, with a dramatic decrease in ‘no further action’ outcome and an increase of signposting to early response services.
• There has been an increase in initial assessments, although this appears to be in line with a national increase. This increase appeared to be lower in North Devon, where the MASH went live first.
• There has been a 40% increase in CAF activity in the North Devon area, where the MASH and Early Response Service Hub went live first.
There has also been an additional benefit relating to multi agency relationships within the MASH. There has been a high level of informal work within the MASH relating to trying to better understand and appreciate other agencies’ working practices and responsibilities. This has also led to lead professionals from agencies being able to proactively advocate for the MASH, and work with their agencies to improve safeguarding understanding and to improve levels of quality with regard to enquiries.
Being able to link in with leads from agencies has enabled us to identify developmental needs for professionals, and address these constructively through training and advice.
The MASH runs a consultation service, which has received positive feedback from the partnership. The consultation service enables professionals to discuss their concerns and receive advice as to whether an enquiry to the MASH is appropriate.
There has been an emphasis on a multi agency understanding of risk, which has led to a working group from agencies within the MASH meeting to develop a multi agency risk assessment related to domestic violence to be used at the: point of enquiry.
There has been a focus when developing the MASH to make the hub accessible to the public and professionals. Creating a single telephone number and publicising the use of the electronic MASH enquiry form have been steps to make it easier for professionals and the public to make enquiries.
Further reviews and feedback can be viewed here.
The staffing costs for initially implementing the Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub were cost neutral. Children’s Social Care moved their existing staffing from the Referral and Consultation Service. The majority of partner agencies used existing resources to implement their interface with the MASH. Many of those workers had other responsibilities as well as their work for the MASH. Recently, both Health and Education have recruited researchers to support their interface with the MASH.
Additional resources have been needed due to unexpected duplication caused by IT difficulties. The MASH form is hosted on Devon’s children’s social care record. Although this was a practical decision, Devon’s children’s social care record does not function as we need it to do. This has resulted in the need to temporarily recruit 3 business support workers while these difficulties are resolved.
There have been expected additional costs with regard to setting up the infrastructure (building, IT, etc).
The Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub has not made any immediate savings in Devon, nor was it designed to do so. It is in the longer term that costs to both social care and the partnership should reduce as accurate responses result in more targeted support for children and their families.
The Devon MASH does believe that there are potential immediate savings if local authorities look to combine their services. A MASH could serve more than one geographical area resulting in:
• Reduced staffing and potentially infrastructure costs.
• Solutions for partners who have responsibility for more than one local authority area.
• Increased information sharing about children and families that move across local authority borders.
Devon is currently undertaking a costing exercise for the partnership on the top re-enquiries to the MASH. This will provide information to partners on the potential savings if intervention had been provided at an earlier stage.
The MASH’s potential to predict future harm (i.e. the top potential re-enquiries to the MASH) and to influence the commissioning and targeting of early intervention services could result in the Devon partnership making substantial long term savings. In addition to this it has to be recognised that a more targeted and preventative intervention will improve the quality of children’s lives in Devon.
Barriers/Challenges and Lessons Learnt
• The starting point is key strategic ‘champions’ who believe in the concept and possibilities of the MASH. They need to be able to make decisions on behalf of their organisations.
• The MASH needs formal signup to the working practices.
• Simple, shared IT systems are required. This is easier said than done. This needs to be considered and implemented prior to ‘going live’.
• Communication is key. Ensure that all levels within organisations are aware of the concept and processes (i.e. not just strategic champions). Devon implemented a schedule of road shows and attendance at team meetings and conferences. A lesson learnt is the need for a clear communication strategy.
• Formal partnership signup to a management structure.
• The right staff who believe and are committed to the concept are essential to the operational success of the team.
• It is key to ‘nail’ your processes before you start.
• Have a clear information sharing/governance agreement with signup from all agencies.
There are a number of opportunities to create working relationships with other agencies and authorities.
• There are other local authorities who are developing MASH based models in their area. Every local authority has the responsibility to support the development of good working practice, and Devon is in a position to work with other local authorities to share knowledge.
• There has been communication with other statutory and voluntary MASH partners to widen the multi agency element of the MASH team. For example, CAFCASS is looking to base a worker in the MASH to become part of the multi agency team, but also to undertake their own statutory checks regarding Children’s Social Care involvement. Currently, Devon Children’s Social Care undertakes this work.
• Continuing liaison with professionals to develop working practices.
• Devon’s initial blueprint for the MASH was the eventual incorporation of Adult Safeguarding into the MASH. There are plans to embed Adult Safeguarding into the MASH process.
Key leadership behaviour characteristics
The following core behaviours have been identified as part of successful elements of leadership (see National College for Leadership of Schools and Children’s Services/C4EO (2011). Resourceful Leadership: How Directors of Children’s Services Improve Outcomes for Children. Full Report. Nottingham: NCSL see http://www.nationalcollege.org.uk/docinfo?id=144732&filename=resourceful-leadership-dcs.pdf).
Devon identified the following behaviours as key to the transformation of their service.
Openness to possibilities
Strategic champions across the partnership identified a significant issue with regard to the sharing of partnership information to safeguard children. These champions supported and believed in the concept and deployed existing resources to create the MASH.
The ability to collaborate
The concept of the MASH involves partnership collaboration at both a strategic and operational level. Strategic champions both at Director and at Councillor/political level led and sold a belief that the sharing of information across the partnership would improve the safeguarding of Devon’s children.
Demonstrating a belief in team and people
The MASH required a team being created with a group of workers from a variety of different agencies. This was at both a strategic and operational level. The sense of team and belief in the team was cascaded from the strategic team to the operational running of the MASH. Operational workers on the ground seeing strategic leads working and believing in a concept, caused an environment that enabled a strong sense of team working with a shared cause.
The ability to create and sustain commitment across a system
Strategic workers and operational staff have had to sustain commitment through difficult times, both a time of scarce resources, rationalisation of services and due to significant operational difficulties during the role out of the MASH
The ability to learn continuously.
The MASH is constantly reviewing and making improvements to the process at both an operational and Board level. The willingness to learn ranges from changes in IT and forms to the potential of increasing the multi-agency decision making aspects of the MASH.
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