Please be aware that this section contains information prepared in 2009 and may now be out of date. Some links may no longer work. We are reviewing this section.
If you are reading this because you are the parent of a child on the autism spectrum then you are more likely than most to understand that parents of disabled children are often in contact with a host of professionals. In the worst case scenario this can mean lots of different appointments with different people, none of whom have spoken to each other and all of whom expect you to give them a detailed breakdown of your child’s disability.
Multi-agency working is designed to cut across this by bringing together professionals with a range of skills to work across their traditional service boundaries and is crucial to the effective provision of children’s services. There are three main models for multi-agency working:
1. Multi-agency panels or networks, sometimes called the 'team around the child' where practitioners remain employed by their home agencies but meet on a regular basis mostly to discuss children and young people with additional needs who would benefit from multi-agency input.
2. Multi-agency teams made up of practitioners seconded or recruited into the team, making it a more formal arrangement than a multi-agency panel. The team works with universal services (those available to every child) to support families and schools as well as individual children and young people.
3. Integrated services which bring together a range of services, usually under one roof, such as school or early years setting. Staff work in a coordinated way to address the needs of children, young people and families providing services such as all-year-round, inclusive education; care and personal development opportunities for children and young people; and specialist support for children and families.
You obviously need to bear in mind that each local authority is likely to find that slightly different processes for multi agency working work best for them so whilst we set up some of the common approaches below that doesn’t necessarily mean that that is an approach you will find your own local authority has adopted.
Context for multi-agency working
Multi-agency working is not rocket science and various pieces of legislation have tried to encourage different professionals to work together. However, the Inquiry which followed the death of Victoria Climbié prompted a renewed determination to get services working together and in 2004 a new Children Act established a duty on agencies to co-operate with each other to protect and improve the lives of children. This has resulted in some of the following developments:
Changes to the children’s workforce
The government are developing improved training for all practitioners who work with children. This should make sure that everyone who works with children have some key basic skills such as being able to recognise a possible developmental delay, be able to support parents emotionally and, crucially, to know when to signpost parents on for more expert advice.
Better information sharing
New ways of sharing information are being developed to avoid duplication, children slipping through the net and excessive bureaucracy. The government has developed ContactPoint, a database holding information on every child in England from birth to 18 years of age, possibly longer for children who are disabled or looked after.
The Common Assessment Framework (CAF)
SENCOs, health visitors, school nurses, workers in children’s centres and voluntary sector workers are among those beginning to use the CAF to assess additional needs in children, particularly where those needs cannot be met by a single agency.
They are most likely to use a CAF if they feel that your child’s needs cannot be met by a single agency. So for instance if your SENCO learnt from you that your family was struggling and needed some additional support they could initiate a CAF in order to bring children’s services on board. While most children on the autism spectrum are likely to continue to be diagnosed following a referral to a paediatrician or other health specialist, the CAF could be the first step which leads to such a referral.
If a number of people are providing support to your child, one of these people may be
appointed as a ‘lead professional’.
The lead professional should do exactly that, take the lead in co-ordinating all the support being provided to your family and act as a single contact point for you. The lead professional should keep you informed, listen to your views and support you. You and your child will have a say in who should be the lead professional.
The Early Support Programme
The Early Support Programme is a government programme aiming to achieve better co-ordinated, family-focused services for young disabled children and their families. It is a national programme being introduced and used in local authorities, hospitals and community-based health services across England.
The Early Support Programme provides a standard framework and set of materials that can be used in many different circumstances, and a set of expectations about how services should work with families. Families are held at the heart of discussion and decision-making about their children. There is more information about the Early Support Programme in the Early Years section of this website.
Children and Young People’s Plan (CYPP)
Every local authority has to have a Children and Young People’s Plan (CYPP) focused on better local integration of children's services in locations such as extended schools and children’s centres. Families with children on the autism spectrum should find it easier to access services as a result and should be consulted about services they would like to see improved and developed. The CYPP covers all local authority services affecting children and young people including early years and extended schools and out-of-school child care, education, youth services, children’s social services. It also includes services provided by relevant youth justice agencies and health services for children and young people, including child and adolescent mental health.
Aiming High for Disabled Children
A key part of this government programme for disabled children is the core offer. All local services are expected to reach the standards set out in the core offer. There are five elements in the core offer but given the links and overlaps, they have been grouped into three key expectations:
• Information provided should be tailored to the individual needs of children and their parents and be readily accessible in a range of formats.
• Disabled children and young people receive child-centred multi-agency co-ordinated services from the point of referral through identification and assessment to delivery
• Disabled children and young people and their families are routinely involved and supported in making informed decisions about their treatment, care and support, and in shaping services
Multi-agency working is therefore now a given and furthermore local areas will be measured annually on whether or not the services they are delivering to disabled children and their families measure up to these expectations.
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The Children’s Workforce Development Council website includes information on the core skills, qualifications for practitioners and the Common Assessment Framework
Teachernet provides comprehensive guidelines from practitioners and the Autism Working Group aimed at raising awareness and standards of support for children on the autism spectrum. Autistic Spectrum Disorders: Good Practice Guidance was developed by the DCSF, the Department of Health and the Autism Working Group and includes representation from parent support organisations, practitioners, government agencies, local education authorities and researchers.
Early Support Programme: the Government programme to achieve better co-ordinated, family-focused services for young disabled children and their families.
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Common Assessment Framework
Role of the lead professional
Children and Young People’s Plan
The National Autism Plan for Children
This is the completion of the work of the National Initiative: Autism Screening and Assessment, and was published in March 2003. Among its recommendations are the need for better multi-disciplinary and multi-agency working.
The report can be downloaded from the National Autistic Society website.
Early years Support Materials
Aiming High for Disabled Children, information on the core offer and the national indicator:
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Islington This project to develop, pilot and evaluate a multi-agency pathway for children and young people and their families with suspected autism came up with a number of key recommendations around parental participation, early identification and multi-agency working. It concluded that developing multi-agency services needed to be done in the context of reviewing all other children services as a whole across agencies.
More detailed recommendations included the need for protocols to be clear and detailed to ensure that all involved understand their role and expectations. Agreed protocols needed to be consistently shared with all teams through service heads. There needed to be ongoing review of the way services were organised and structured to make best use of resources.
Well-resourced, integrated multi - agency teams required:
- time to work collaboratively
- to be co-located
- to include planning and decision making (with parents, nurseries and schools)
- to include parents and schools in the assessment planning, diagnostic and intervention process
- to be able to meet national timescales.
More information on the project can be downloaded by following this link.
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