Safeguarding multi agency screening, London Borough of Haringey

Themes this local practice example relates to:

  • Safeguarding
  • General resources

Priorities this local practice example relates to:

  • Protecting children living in families where they are at high risk of abuse, harm or neglect

Basic details

Organisation submitting example

London Borough of Haringey 

Local authority/local area:

London Borough of Haringey 

The context and rationale

To establish a multi agency team to deal with the screening and initial checks of all safeguarding / child protection contacts into Children & Young People’s Service (CYPS) within Haringey Council. The team would integrate staff and systems from health and police within the refocused social work first response teams in order to ensure the most appropriate and reliable screening possible.

The concept was that:

•Referrers contacting the First Response Multi Agency Team (FR MAT) would be able to speak to the most relevant professional (health, social care or police) to discuss their referral. Feedback would be provided to referrers by the FR MAT in a timely manner. 
•At the point of referral, relevant and accurate information would be gathered from across all databases and shared to enable informed decisions to be made and ensure the needs of the child are met in the most appropriate and safe way. Use of specialists to gather this information would also ensure that information was accurate and analytical. 
•S47 investigations and Strategy meetings would be held in a timely manner with correct and comprehensive attendance from all appropriate agencies. 
•In conjunction with the multi agency threshold document referrals not meeting the higher thresholds of need (and therefore requiring intervention) would be channelled either through the CAF team, which is integrated within the FR MAT, or through single agency intervention in order to receive support in determining the appropriate universal or targeted services.

The goal:

Safeguarding children can only properly happen when all the involved agencies work together, sharing information, skills, experience and resources. This project was designed to ensure children and families benefit from holistic and comprehensive assessment of their needs from the very outset. This would ensure that children and Young people would benefit from subsequent planning and support which was multi agency and targeted.

Evidence and Knowledge:

The First Response Multi Agency Team (FR MAT) has been developed by all the involved agencies – the Children and Families Service (within Haringey Council), the Police (Borough Command, CAIT and SCD5) and NHS Haringey (both PCT and GOSH in Haringey). During the period July 2009 to January 2010 aspects of this were trialled in pilot mode. The First Response Multi Agency Team went live from April 2010.

Information sharing was a key failing highlighted in the Joint Area Review. Opportunities were missed: information was not passed between agencies at the right time, decision making and planning was fragmented. Aligning services and integrated working is key to the delivery on the Areas for Improvement identified.

The proposal built on an initial trial in early 2009. This involved a multi agency group of senior personnel from the Police Child Abuse Investigation Team (CAIT) and health, together with a senior manager, brought in from another borough. The team moved into the social work Referral and Assessment Service for a 6 week period. Although the trial demonstrated the value of having a multi-agency team working as part of the referral process it also demonstrated the need for more careful planning. The team came into the service at a time of crisis and was drawn into addressing the needs of a backlog of cases. In addition the team were seen by already demoralised and over stretched social work staff as being brought in to police their practice and thus viewed negatively rather than positively. This was mitigated partly by long standing relationships between Police CAIT and health but demonstrated the need for more considered change management. 

Alongside the multi agency team a CYPS screening team was also put in place. This team consisted of administrators who logged and screened referrals. Whilst this team was effective in that they ensured all contacts into the service were logged appropriately and proved a skilled phone answering service the team was unable to reduce the workload on team managers who continued to process 330+ contacts into the service per week, many of which were police notifications (PACS). PACS as Police pre Assessment Checks contain information about children who have come to police notice and who are assessed by officers as not meeting the 5 Every Child matters outcomes. The reports are researched by the Police Public Protection Desk (PPD) and include an account of the incident, police action at the time and also background checks. 

Thus, whilst the screening service assisted in the processing of work and the interface with the public, there was a danger that decisions about risk were being made by unqualified practitioners with little social work management oversight.

In September 2009 a review of the social work screening team was undertaken and the decision made to change the composition of the team to a social work Team Manager, a senior practitioner, three social workers and a team of 4 administrators to log contacts and update the computerised data system. This team required some additional funding but key posts were developed by reducing the number of duty social work teams from 6 to 4.

Further planning and mapping of relevant processes by the key partners helped show the points at which multi agency working would provide the greatest benefits. It also helped to identify which IT systems would be required, and at what points further expertise may require to be drawn into the group. Key to this process was the multi agency forums embedded into the way we work including the LSCB and an Integrated Working Strategy Group. This allowed oversight and sign up to the development of the service from Director level down to operational staff. 

The overall safeguarding improvement programme is owned by the Safeguarding Plan Steering Group, which meets on a twice per month basis and engages the chief executives of the council and the PCT and the MET police Borough Commander along with the director of children’s services and a deputy director. This provides a high level steer, challenge and issue resolution at the most senior level across the partnership. 

In developing proposals, we looked to see where else had adopted a similar approach. There was only one other council we could find that had done so and a visit was arranged. This identified a few learning points which were addressed in our plans. 

The approach taken in the other areas had been one of whole co-location of services, whereas the approach adopted in Haringey has been one of identifying the specific needs and integrating these individuals / teams to form the core MAT. This allows other professionals and support to be drawn in as required, forming the extended MAT, thereby retaining a tight team focused around clear objectives.

The practice

We started by identifying the key aspects of the work that would benefit from a multi agency approach, and considering what organisations and which people undertook this work. In doing so we were able to identify aspects that we would seek to include on a permanent ongoing basis and those where there would be value in having some support on specific issues or a smaller scale ongoing support. This enabled the development of the core MAT with the extra resources and support required on an as and when basis forming the extended MAT. 

A core steering group was established to lead the work, which included staff from the Children and Young People’s service, police (Haringey Community Support Unit, Public Protection Desk and CAIT and PCT health visitor specialising in safeguarding. This steering group was chaired by the head of one of the Children’s networks who also managed the CAF process. As such it allowed the group to look at not only the benefits of multi agency working but also the interface between the CAF and core social work tasks. The steering group consisted of senior managers and reported to the Integrated Working Strategy Group chaired by the Deputy Director, Children’s Networks. This allowed oversight of the process and integration with other multi agency strategies.

Alongside this process operational staff developed multi agency meetings to look at complex cases. These meetings were held three times per week and benefited the process on two key ways. Firstly it allowed for the development of relationships between operational staff that did not usually come into day to day contact, for example officers from the Police Public Protection Desk (PPD) and Community Safety Unit (CSU) and social work staff. Secondly it allowed for all operational staff to develop an understanding of the benefits of multi agency working for complex cases.

Both groups considered which personnel and what systems would need to be co-located for the various people and teams to work together. It was determined that for some aspects (e.g. domestic violence) an existing member of staff would be seconded to the team in the short term to scope out ongoing requirements and operating procedures, leading to the appointment of dedicated staff when the exact needs and working practices had been identified.

The different working requirements were considered (e.g. police PPD staff work from 5am to midnight) and they would need access to the building and police IT systems during this time. Staff that would be less regular members of the MAT would still need to be able to access systems and work as part of the team whilst in the building and therefore hot-desking and multiple computer systems would be important. The result of this is that the screening room has IT access to police, health and education data bases as well as the social work Framework-I. Hot desks also allow for visitors to the service to access their own systems. 

The work of the MAT is linked to the agreed thresholds of need for service provision and the development of a multi agency threshold document was crucial to the process. It is intended that as many people as possible will be supported through the lower tiers of need through access to universal services and supported by the CAF. For this reason, integration of the CAF Team within the FR MAT was essential. This facilitates the transfer of contacts in both directions between CAF and the safeguarding services, whilst also ensuring that there is knowledge and advice on hand to make informed decisions. At the higher levels of need there is a true partnership response, with greater use made of joint multi-agency visits, improved information and attendance at child protection conferences.

Achievements so far

Key outcomes and performance measures were identified as part of a submission for DCSF funding. With the new government not being in a position to financially support the MAT, we have taken this as an opportunity to refocus the performance measures in a partnership context. A multi agency performance scorecard has been developed for the team building on the measures submitted to DCSF. The existing and new measures are designed to ensure the effective and timely dealing with contacts at every point within the team, ensuring that children and young people are effectively safeguarded. Measures currently being used are:

•NI 59 & 60 – timeliness of initial and core assessments: These have risen to 64% and 53% respectively.
•Referrals progressing to assessment , indicating that contacts which do not meet the threshold are directed elsewhere: This has shown an increase from 53% in April 2009 to 88% in November 2010, 20% above National Figures
•Contacts not meeting thresholds supported through CAF/ single agency
•Timeliness of information / flow through the process (removing blockages). The time frame for the gathering of information being 48 hours

Since the MAT was established we have seen a continued improvement in performance on NI59 and 60. There has also been an increase in the percentage of referral progressing to assessment. With it being relatively early days, these and the other performance indicators will continue to be measured to demonstrate further sustainable improvements in performance.

Monitoring mechanisms are being introduced for recording the number of contacts going into the CAF process and improving the timeliness of information flow.

We now have a Multi Agency Team in place with police, health, social work and CAF staff co - located. A specialist domestic violence worker has been appointed and CAMHS support is provided during part of the week.

All team members have access to their own IT systems and health staff can also access the social work system. We are reviewing the need for access to police databases and vice versa. Visitors to the service such as CAIT / CSU can also access their data bases from the hot desks.

Urgent referrals that come to the notice of the Public Protection Desk are passed in a timely manner to the duty teams, thus enabling a quicker response.

Screening social workers are able to work with colleagues from health and police to gather information and determine if social work intervention is required. This means that of the 300+ contacts into the service only 50 – 55 on average are sent to the duty team managers. This allows them to focus on the team’s core business rather than processing contacts. As a result children and families are visited by social workers who have had clear management guidance from the outset.

Screening social workers, health visitors and CAMHS worker are able to engage meaningfully with colleagues to ensure that children are appropriately safeguarded and supported via single agency intervention or via the CAF. Of the 1000 screening tasks undertaken by the team only 9% have progressed to the referral stage. There is a marked improvement in dialogue between CAF and social work staff and an increase in cases going to CAF panel either as a result of screening discussions or at the end of social work intervention.

The progress from referral to assessment has risen from 58% in the period April – July 2009 to 76% in the same period for 2010 (representing the first 4 months of the MAT being operational) and the conversion rate for November 2010 was 88% 

Feedback from parents / carers and the professional network is that they find the team responsive and helpful and the number of complaints from other professionals has significantly reduced. Alongside this, there have been an encouraging number of compliments from professionals and parents over the last several months.

Work has been undertaken with the public protection desk around the number and nature of PAC’s coming into the service. The PPD Detective Sergeant continues to undertake work with uniform police around the quality of information provided. Merlins relating to petty crime /truancy are being labelled for multi agency review. 

There is increased joint working between health and social work. The health visitors are now attached to the 4 duty teams and this has resulted in more joint working including visits, better access to health information and consistent input from screening onwards. The specialist health visitors also supervise field workers on complex cases and in particular those children subject to a plan. The body of knowledge relating to the most vulnerable children is therefore increased and with it the opportunities to ensure children are protected
The introduction of a part time CAMHS worker has allowed consultation for all professionals in the service including the CAF manager and this has enhanced our response to children and YP with mental health needs. The link between the CAMHS worker and local hospitals has allowed a speedy, informed and confident response to those Young People who self harm.

A domestic violence Senior Practitioner has been appointed to the team and will work between the specialist Domestic Violence service (hearthstone) and the screening team aimed at enhancing inter agency working.

The team has also developed its relationships with housing and is supported by a key housing manager around issues such as intentional homelessness. As a result homeless families are supported to access approved temporary housing stock locally minimising the upheaval and change children experience and allowing continuity of school, GP and social networks. 

The team also links directly with the specialist No recourse To Public Funds Team. This ensures that destitute children and their families are assessed within 7 working days and support including accommodation and subsistence offered if eligible. Ineligible families have the opportunity to speak to specialist workers and are signposted elsewhere. 

Agreed funding from the DCSF was not forthcoming as a result of a change in government. Funding for the core posts in the team: social work; health visiting; and police have been funded by respective agencies from their core budget.

Co–location of staff will continue. The four duty social work teams are also located on the same floor for their duty week. This has resulted in increased multi agency work and interface with CAF.

Work with uniform police has significantly improved the quality of PACS with officers recording not only the incident but also their actions and the assessment of the child’s needs against the 5 every Child matters Outcomes. This has helped to streamline their processing by relevant agencies and ensures that appropriate information is recorded on case files.


Apart from the recruitment of 3 new posts, the majority of the programme costs have been associated with the necessary equipment, IT and office space. In the medium term there should be efficiencies from the ways of working that will provide cost savings. 

In May 2010, a peer review was conducted in preparation for the unannounced inspection. This review highlighted some strengths in the way the MAT works, as well as some improvements that are being implemented. This was only undertaken one month into the MAT being operational, so it was still at a time when we were learning what worked.

The unannounced inspection of contact referral and assessment took place at the end of August 2010 and was published on the 16th September 2010. The inspection concluded that ‘All contacts are rigorously screened by a multi-disciplinary team. This facilitates the effective prioritisation of contacts within clearly defined service thresholds. Decisions taken at this filtering stage are well evidenced and timely.’ This provided further validation of the progress made and impact of the team.

What ‘hot tips’ do you have from your experience for others?

It is all about planning and partnership working – having a clear vision and collectively developing the plans to achieve it, with each of the key partners playing their role and leading on individual aspects. 

Bringing different cultures together is not easy and it is the little things that stand in the way.

Whatever processes, systems and procedures are put in place, we rely on people to bring the changes about. Communication is essential and sharing the vision for what will be achieved needs to be at all level from operational to strategic.

Ownership at every level is essential, from the Chief Executives providing strategic direction and leadership, through the service and operational managers to the staff delivering the services on the ground.

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