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Tagged In:  MASH, Social Work, Social Worker
In May 2014, it was reported that England has the second worst child mortality rate in Western Europe. There are many factors that can be associated to these findings (taken from an international study of child mortality, co-ordinated by the University of Washington in Seattle, USA), but the action required is simple, more needs to be done to safeguard children. One initiative, Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hubs (MASH) is being adopted by more local authorities as a best practice model of information sharing and multi-agency working. By identifying and assessing risk and using shared information from a variety of sources, appropriate action can be taken to prevent children coming to harm. 

Multi-agency working isn’t a new concept, Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) and Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conferences (MARAC) have been established for some time, but Nigel Boulton recognised a need for information sharing to protect vulnerable children and adults. An experienced senior police officer with Devon and Cornwall Police, he used his expertise in intelligence handling, risk assessment and subsequent decision making to create MASH, which has been positively received across the country.

When information is received raising new safeguarding concerns it is collated by the MASH, and the participating agencies share appropriate and relevant information to the case, thus enabling an informed and speedy response. Key partner agencies of MASH include children’s services, adult social care, the police, health and education, mental health, youth offending, probation and housing. They all have a role in safeguarding children and vulnerable adults and are very conscious that information sharing must be proportionate, secure and kept confidential. The recent Government report, published on 29 July 2014, entitled ‘Multi-agency Working and Information Sharing Project’, highlighted misunderstandings among professionals about what information can be shared. Concerns were raised, following a High Court Judgement (R (AB and CD) v Haringey London Borough Council (2013) EWHC 416, that sharing information within MASH is prohibited without the permission of the parents of the child in question.

The government is reviewing guidance for practitioners and managers to dispel mistaken beliefs that prevent information being shared appropriately and effectively, and the issue was addressed by Crime Prevention Minister Norman Baker, who unveiled the recent report at a stakeholder summit at the Home Office. He said: “This coalition government is determined to tackle child abuse in whatever form it takes, and Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hubs have a clear role to play in this. This report sets out evidence from a wide range of approaches across hundreds of local authority areas. As a result, local agencies are now better placed than ever before to make informed decisions about how best to ensure children and vulnerable adults are protected from deplorable abuse and exploitation. And I want to send a clear message today – if it’s a choice between data protection and child protection, child protection must come first.”

A large number of local authorities have adopted the MASH model, and these include the pioneering Devon County Council, Nottinghamshire, Southwark, Lambeth (see case study ), Hampshire, Birmingham, Barnet, Southampton, Suffolk, Lancashire, Herefordshire, Merton, Havering, Oldham, Barking and Dagenham, Greenwich and Bristol councils. This list is by no means finite and many areas have alternate, effective and excellent multi-agency methods of safeguarding in place.

April 2010 saw Devon launch the first Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub. Within the hub are a range of representatives including police, children’s social care, probation, health, education, adult and community services, mental health services, early years, CAMHS, plus the ambulance service. The council have published leaflets and posters promoting the benefits of the MASH along with guidance for parents and professionals. Their website includes detailed information of the processes and procedures utilised. The council state ‘The MASH method has resulted in more effective and earlier identification of vulnerable children. It has reduced the number of different professionals being involved while keeping the most appropriate professional to deliver interventions to meet the needs identified in any particular case. It has avoided unnecessary duplication and visits and simplified processes. It has also improved communication between professionals.’ - See more here.

Devon County Council commissioned the National Foundation for Education Research (NFER) to carry out a case study of the Devon MASH (Golden et al., 2011). It found that those involved thought that the main advantages of MASH were: more informed decision making, improved services for children and young people, benefits to partner organisations, identification of gaps and areas for improvement, a greater willingness to share and greater mutual understanding between partner organisations. The study identified several key components needed for the MASH model to be successfully implemented elsewhere; strategic buy-in, clear governance, aims and terms of reference, sufficient staffing, co-location and an adequate IT infrastructure.

The final report of the Munro Review of Child Protection (2011) highlights the Devon MASH as an example of good practice. Furthermore, a review into youth violence following the riots of August 2011, stated that in order to join up the way local areas respond to such violence, the government would ‘promote the roll-out of Multi Agency Safeguarding Hubs (MASH) which co-locate police and other public protection agencies to cut bureaucracy and make it easier to share information and agree actions’ (Home Office, 2011). 

The MASH in Nottinghamshire handles concerns about both children and vulnerable adults and over 60 staff from the Police, Health, Probation Trust, Schools, Children's Social Care and Adult Safeguarding work together in the MASH office. Virtual links exist to other services and agencies such as probation, housing, mental health, early intervention and youth services. Clear and comprehensive literature has been produced to promote how the MASH operates and the council website displays more information. 

Suffolk’s MASH is a partnership between Suffolk County Council, the NHS, police, youth offending team, housing services and probation, working together to safeguard children, young people and vulnerable adults. The majority of staff are based at Landmark House, but not all. A dedicated secure information system is used to share and collate relevant information to facilitate swift decision making and appropriate action. Sensitive information will remain in the confidential environment of the MASH where only those who actually need to know get to see the information. Suffolk County Council’s website offers further advice and information to facility users. 

More than 28 London boroughs have a MASH up and running. The London Safeguarding Children Board was established to enable London organisations responsible for the safeguarding of children in London to meet legislative requirements in line with the guidance set out in the  Department of Education report ‘Working together to Safeguard Children’ (2013). In December 2013, the first independent report into the effectiveness of MASH was published after being commissioned by the London Safeguarding Children Board and London Councils. The average turnaround time for referrals were found to be significantly reduced and the report states, ‘One of the particularly beneficial impacts of the Mash on services to children was in the identification of children who would not have come to notice previously, but were now receiving a service.’ 

Chantal Marrow, a MASH social work manager, said, “When working with local authorities, I want my team to be performing to the best of their abilities. This isn't just about ensuring that we are meeting necessary timescales and assisting in lowering referral rates, nor is it just about auditing or information sharing. It is about developing a positive work environment, a sense of team spirit and a willingness to go that extra mile because you want to, not because your manager has asked you!”

Chantal continued, “Part of my role is about how the different professionals within a MASH can come together, ensuring that it is not just social workers that are safeguarding children, but a larger professional network who are working extremely closely to achieve this. Additionally, in these working relationships, we need to ensure that appropriate information is being shared (confidentiality / consent is key to our work) and multi-disciplinary decision making is occurring on cases.”

Protecting children, young people and vulnerable adults is never going to be an easy task and will always rely, at some level, on information received from miscellaneous sources. Where that information goes, how it is shared and acted upon, has the potential to have a lasting positive or negative impact on the person at risk. From a social worker’s perspective, being able to share information with partner agencies can help them to fit more pieces into the jigsaw puzzle rather than just looking at the one piece in their hand. By this sharing and collating information, team decisions can be made on the appropriate action required, and acted upon quickly and efficiently. 

“As a social work manager within a MASH team, I am in a very unique position where my team and I are working with a group of professionals who are just as committed to safeguarding as we are. We may disagree on how that goal is to be achieved on some points. However, we are all part of something unique and exciting and working together to ensure that the best decisions and outcomes for children are being promoted and achieved,” Chantal concluded. 

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