There has recently been a drive across local government, the criminal justice sector and the health and social care sector to forge an alliance on improving local social and health services. One key instance of this is through Joint Targeted Area Inspections (JTAIs). These are England-wide inspections carried out by Ofsted in partnership with the police, health and probation inspectorates. Together, they are reviewing how effectively local agencies are working together in the area of child protection.
Why Are We Experiencing a Push for Multi-Agency Working in Local Areas?
You may be wondering what the connection between JTAIs and co-operative working is. Well, the push for multi-agency working has been driven by past findings in inspections which highlighted the consistent theme of disjointed working locally, both at a strategic and practical level, which has been detrimental to a child’s wellbeing. On the back of this, Yvette Stanley, Ofsted's National Director for Social Care, emphasises that no single agency can deliver an effective child protection response on its own and many of the councils who have taken part in JTAIs have emphasised that multi-agency working is a ‘game-changer’.
Hounslow London Borough Council suggests that collective working vastly improves communication channels, professional understanding and the overall collective commitment to improving services for children and young people. With these comments in mind, a reoccurring theme is beginning to appear that working collectively as ‘agencies’ is greater than the sum of working in its parts- that is as singular agents.
What Can We Learn from Successful Multi-Agency Working in JTAI Reports?
Having established that multi-agency working is positive in and of itself-it is crucial that it is implemented correctly across a sector which is dealing with the vital issue of child protection. With this in mind, there is much to be learnt from 2017/18 JTAI reports, especially in terms of technological solutions to disjointed working. To give an example, the Cheshire East and Chester region has been commended by Yvette Stanley as a region demonstrating successful multi-agency working, which is manifested through the region’s joint use of the i-ART consultation service, used by professionals across the area to aid them in making decisions in cases of neglect. Other local authorities such as Dorset County Council, demonstrate their multi-agency strengths by utilising Multi Agency Safeguarding Hubs (MASH) which is successfully driving forward timely, straight forward referrals and the next steps in the child protection process.
What Does the Future of Child Protection Look Like?
It would be fair to say that child protection must crucially feature as one of the Government’s key policy priorities today. This is especially true when considering that approximately 1 in 5 children have been subject to domestic abuse according to NSPCC’s 2018 ‘Research into the Prevalence of Child Maltreatment in the United Kingdom’.
However, there is light at the end of the tunnel and progress is clearly being made. In December 2018, Ofsted announced the core themes for JTAIs which focus on how effectively local agencies collaborate in an area to protect children. Each set of 6 inspections focuses on a separate ‘deep dive’ theme, providing a comprehensive focus on a particular issue. Previous themes include Joint Inspections of child sexual exploitation and missing children, the response to children living with domestic abuse, growing up neglected and the response to child sexual abuse in the family environment.
Going forward, JTAI’s will focus on the 3 deep dive themes of children living with mental health issues, prevention and early intervention and older children in need of help and protection. Providing a deep dive into these topics will allow a more focused and coherent inspection, ensuring that as minimal neglect as possible is experienced by children and young people.
This article was written by Elin Sams