Making visible inter-agency working processes in children’s services
Octarra, Harla Sara
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Inter-agency working has been promoted as a way forward to improve public services, including children’s services. However, the terminology is problematic because it often overlaps with other terminologies, such as partnership or collaboration. As a consequence, when describing working arrangements between people and organisations, a ‘terminological quagmire’ results (Leathard, 1994, p5), with ‘definitional chaos’ (Ling, 2000, p83). This definitional chaos is replicated in the on-going challenges found by research, on inter-agency working. While much literature has focussed on these challenges and solutions, little attention has been given to the processes that make up inter-agency working. My research explored inter-agency working processes at the frontline of children’s services in Scotland. It examined formal mechanisms of working together, such as meetings and referral forms, which organised professionals’ work and their relationships with one another. I used institutional ethnography to investigate inter-agency working processes. The research was conducted in one local authority in Scotland over a period of eight months and within the framework of Getting It Right For Every Child (GIRFEC), which is the country’s national policy approach for children. One component of GIRFEC is the Named Person. It is a provision that would provide every child in Scotland a professional (for most children the professional is going to be their health visitor or head teacher) to help safeguard their wellbeing by means of offering advice, support and referral to other services. This service will make teachers at promoted posts responsible for coordinating support for their pupils and will change mechanisms of inter-agency working. The tenets of institutional ethnography allowed me to observe and trace the ways in which professionals worked together. The research found that when professionals worked together, they shared information and that sharing of information was complicated by the burgeoning use of technology. The working processes involved revealed the power relations between people and between people and organisations: specifically, between teachers and the Children and Families team members of the council, as the latter was responsible for maintaining the formal inter-agency working mechanisms of GIRFEC. The thesis highlights that inter-agency meetings, as formalised ways of working together, can boost professionals’ confidence as they wrestle with uncertainty about their actions as professionals and how best to address children and young people’s needs. This thesis also shows how policy changes changed the ways in which professionals work together. The Named Person provision of GIRFEC has ignited public debates in Scotland. This thesis is contributing to the debates by providing evidence on how this new role has changed the relationships between the teachers and other professionals. This is pertinent as the Scottish Government is currently redesigning the Named Person policy.