Blackburn With Darwen Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH).

Themes this local practice example relates to:

  • Safeguarding
  • General resources
  • Early Help

Basic details
 

Organisation submitting example

Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council, Children’s Services and Education

Local authority/local area:

Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council


The context and rationale

The Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) is an evolving programme in Blackburn and offers an opportunity for improving the information available from the start of a case, helping to more accurately differentiate those cases where MASH needs to be involved, and those where it doesn’t need to be involved. The model consists of a team of multi-disciplinary professionals who are employed by their respective agencies and who are co-located in one setting. The co-location of staff with access to their respective client information systems enables speedier and better sharing of information between agencies and provides a more complete picture of the child and their circumstances from the outset.

In Blackburn with Darwen over the last two years, there has been a significant increase in contacts to the ‘front door’ of social care services. This represents an increase of 20 per cent on 12 months ago and 60 per cent on two years ago. The general rise in contacts to social care is a feature that had been mirrored across other local authorities as reflected below. 

‘Children’s Social Care performance remains good and broadly in line with similar authorities across the North and the Midlands. Unfortunately, this means that activity is at high levels. This is true at the front-door, with high levels of contacts back to levels similar to those in the aftermath of Baby Peter in Haringey; and in other long-term social care teams, in terms of the number of children subject to child protection plans; children in our care and children in need. This is a common pattern across local authorities, but it places strains on the service area,’ (Quarter 2 Children’s Social Care Performance Report).

Background

Blackburn is the 17th most deprived borough nationally, based on the 2011 Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD). Almost one fifth of the population are Muslim, the third largest such proportion in England and the proportion of our children and young people from Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) communities stands at 40 per cent.

There are 39,000 children and young people living in the borough.

The front door of children's social care receives around 750 contacts a month, of which 200+ will make it through to referral and assessment by the social work service.

At any one time, there are roughly 350 children in the care of the local authority and 240 subject to child protection plans. The social work service as a whole and including the two former groups and care leavers has approximately 1,750 open cases at any one time. 

The Munro review of child protection illustrated that there is a fear among all services, of vulnerable children being missed, a feature that results in too many families becoming embroiled within the lengthy assessment process of social care. Munro comments ‘This is creating a skewed system that is paying so much attention to identifying cases of abuse and neglect that it is draining time and resource away from families.’

Munro’s reports are heralding a welcome change in social work being less procedurally/ performance driven and more credence being applied to professional judgement based upon robust information. 

The Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) is an evolving programme in Blackburn and offers an opportunity for improving the information available from the start of a case. This helps to more accurately differentiate those cases where social work needs to be involved, with those where it doesn’t. The model consists of a team of multi-disciplinary professionals who are employed by their respective agencies and who are co-located in one setting. The co-location of staff with access to their respective client information systems enables speedier and better sharing of information between agencies and provides a more complete picture of the child and their circumstances from the outset. Essentially, it provides a unified multi-agency approach to individual situations, negating the need for social care to make unilateral decisions to referrals. By undertaking more research at the referral stage, there is significantly greater and more comprehensive information available for children’s social care and other services; this makes greater sense of the presenting concerns and how best to meet needs. 

Aim

The aim of MASH is to engage more services within the MASH, not only to provide greater information for decision making but also to enable a swifter response at an appropriate level of intervention. 

Clearly the problems children face are often symptomatic of parenting dysfunction caused as a result of mental health issues, learning difficulties or drug and alcohol abuse, for example, or a combination of any of these components. The police are currently receiving vulnerable adult referrals within the MASH, and the process of managing these cases will be improved and coordinated better from a whole family perspective if services from the adult sector are more readily available at the point of contact. Work is progressing on this element. 

The same story applies for housing services, welfare benefits advice and Youth Offending Team (YOT) services, as the more coordinated response is at the front door, the better this supports the ‘Team Around the Family’ approach to service delivery. Whilst some services will be co-located others will have to be ‘virtual’ but the key to success is ensuring that they act as a corporate whole.

Referral process
Formerly referrals to Police, Social Care and Health used to be a discrete process within the respective organisations. Now information exchange is simplified due to co-location of agencies and will become improved further as more partners join the MASH. The referral pathways to police and social care have not changed but even at this early stage of the project’s development, how these referrals are dealt with is different and better informed as a result of being able to share information more readily. As the project develops further, we are anticipating that the MASH will become an all-embracing screening operation for both vulnerable adults and children. The screening process will involve: 

• Consideration of all incoming contacts and referral circumstances.
• Scrutinising databases and undertaking checks (including Police, Council, Probation, Health and Education services).
• Establishing agreed/shared records of what is already known. Currently the record is a combined chronology of information but in the future may evolve into a Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub Information Record.
• Categorising the level of need, and identifying appropriate pathways for support, with priority applied to those in need of protection.

The practice

The development of MASH was and continues to be an evolving process. Blackburn and Darwen already had the rudiments of a multi-disciplinary team for screening contact to the First Response team. This included a health professional, social worker and an independent domestic abuse advisor and referral and information coordinators. An opportunity arose as a result of the Constabulary review to incorporate the police officers into the structure in December 2011. In the future, the initiative will be developed further and involve practitioners from adult services and related professionals who have involvement with children and families. The MASH manages all children’s and young people’s contacts and referrals received from any source and vulnerable adult contacts have also begun to be received recently. At the point of contact, respective agencies are able to interrogate their client information systems to provide a detailed picture of the concerns. As the staff members are co-located, the process is very swift and efficient. Should a child protection investigation be required, much of the information is readily available and joint consultation through a strategy discussion and working with the police is more easily coordinated and commensurate with the level of need identified. 

The MASH is currently structured to both screen referrals and allocate to social work for on-going intervention. It was designed in this way as until recently it was unclear whether the police would provide staff for a separate MASH for Blackburn with Darwen or whether they would want a combined one between Blackburn with Darwen and East Lancashire. This made planning difficult as the eventual outcome of a shared MASH would have required it to be structured differently. Due in large part to the success of the Blackburn model, it was agreed by the Constabulary in April to invest in a separate Blackburn based MASH. It has been agreed that the police will continue with their existing commitment to MASH and in all likelihood increase their resources to it as the programme develops. 

Given the consensus of view, we are now able to develop the model further which will include the separation of the screening and allocation function. The development will be project managed at a local level. A multi-agency implementation group will be established and will oversee the development of an action plan, deliver, monitor and review progress.

Evidencing your practice has made a difference to children, young people and families

Initially, it was envisaged that contacts to the police may reduce subsequent contacts for social work services. Although still early in the programme development, this projected reduction has not appeared yet. This may be due to other factors, including the economy, that are contributing to increased demand. We are more confident that by separating the screening and intervention process and involving more agencies in the MASH, we will be able to divert contacts from social work services. As more agencies join, this will provide better signposting opportunities. 

A number of indicators are currently being considered, these are as follows:

• Evidence that contacts to the social work services have reduced.
• The percentage of re-referrals within 12 months of the previous referral has reduced. 
• A reduction in the number of families in need of high end support.
• A lower number of referral into social work services 
• The number of S47s investigation reducing.
• The number of S47s starting and being exited reducing.
• Workflow is swift and efficient with cases moving through MASH to the appropriate team/service moderated through the domains of the continuum of need and response. 

Working with our business support colleagues, we will be using a report card mechanism for monitoring performance. 

At this stage of our development the quantitative evidence is dissonant; however there is evidence of improvement from a quality perspective. Case studies of the MASH operation have identified some key advantages of the process:

• Co-location of staff permitted the speedy retrieval by the police of a family with two children who had tried to avoid social work involvement by disappearing from the area. 
• Police using Youth Involvement Officers facilitated a residential army course for a 15 year old boy who wasn’t attending school and who was presenting significant verbal and physical control issues for his parents. He is now attending school and seeking a career in the army. The repeated referrals regarding this young person have now abated. 
• A domestic abuse report to the police revealed the presence of an individual with historic sexual convictions for indecent exposure and inciting a child to commit an act of gross indecency. As a result of this information, social care was able to secure protection of the child.
• A domestic abuse referral involving a pregnant female initially appeared to be low level. Prior to MASH, Children’s Services and Health Services would have only been made aware of incidents within the past 12 months. Police checks revealed a further 18 previous incidents since 2009. This coupled with information from the victim and Health that the female had previously miscarried on a number of occasions, the concern was raised from ‘Standard’ to ‘Medium’. As a result, Children’s Services immediately progressed the referral to Initial Assessment and Health agreed to closely monitor the mother.

There have been other occasions where the police have been able to link a vulnerable adult contact to the identification of a vulnerable child. Prior to MASH, this information may not have been identified and checks may not have been completed in a timely fashion and the safeguarding of the child would have been delayed or possibly overlooked.

It is perhaps self-evident that co-location improves understanding of partner disciplines which results in stronger and more efficient collaborative working. The cultural changes brought about as a result of working closely together encourages partners to review thresholds and practice regularly and challenge decisions more readily.

Helping others to replicate your practice

As illustrated above, a major barrier to delivery was initial uncertainty about whether the MASH was to serve one borough or two. This has now been resolved as a result of being able to demonstrate to the Constabulary the benefits of a locally based MASH. 


A further challenge is working with partners to co-opt practitioners into the MASH and agree how the funding arrangements are structured. 

Calculating fixed costs is relatively straight forward as illustrated below. Staffing costs are not so simple as differentiating the cost of MASH from what existed before is complex. The Detective Sargent position was a new post. 

Police Costs
Laptops: £800 (400 x 2)
Connective line to Police system: £350 approx.
1 x Detective Sargent: £55,481 (F/T)
1 x Police Constable: £ 45,973 (F/T)
Total: £102,604

Social Care Costs
Team Manager: £39,855 (F/T)
Deputy Team Manager: £33,663 (F/T)
A&C Social Worker: £32,802 (F/T)
CSO IDVA: £24,648 (F/T)
RIC 1: £24,648 (0.87 FTE)
RIC 2: £24,648 (0.95 FTE)
RIC 3: £21,519 (0.3 FTE)
RIC 4: £24,648 (0.4 FTE)
RIC 5: £24,648 (0.5 FTE)
Health Visitor F/T - 1 role working across 2 services. 
The cost for a specialist health visitor/team leader is a band 7 and the top of that scale is £49,044 and mid-point £42,877 (with on costs added )
TOTAL £293,956

The MASH evolved, as a result of co-locating the police within an existing multi-disciplinary duty infrastructure. This organisation is committed to interagency working and has a historic track record of how well this approach works. Given this experience, it was unnecessary to undertake a risk assessment as there was sufficient evidence of the success of this way of working. Looking forward, it is clear that an implementation group for delivery and a project management approach to control and coordinate progress is needed. 

The MASH development needs to have ownership from a strategic level, top down to front line staff otherwise partnership buy in will be compromised. The MASH in Blackburn was an evolving initiative built on multi-agency foundations. Running a pilot MASH has provided an opportunity to learn, progress and convince senior managers and key stakeholders of the merits of this way of working. It is fortunate that suitable accommodation already existed but the design of the accommodation is central to encouraging cooperative working. 

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