Changes are under way in child protection in Brighton and Hove. Social workers, schools, the police and NHS staff are being asked to work more closely together.
Some of them will work in the same room in a set up known as the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub.
It is also known as the MASH which for some may carry echoes of the film and TV series about US army doctors.
The people from different services who will be sitting side by side for the first time in Brighton’s MASH will certainly deal with emergencies.
But it is in the nature of their jobs that they must also do a lot of routine and mundane work too. It may not be glamorous but its importance shouldn’t be understated.
Among the people making the changes locally are the former police chief in Brighton and Hove, Graham Bartlett, who now chairs the Local Safeguarding Children Board, and senior council official Pinaki Ghoshal.
Mr Ghoshal joined Brighton and Hove City Council almost a year ago. He is the executive director of children’s services.
He said: “I’m working on a three-year strategy. What we have in the city is a lot of services for children but what we don’t have is a children’s service.”
Part of the reason is historic. He added: “In 2005 the government decided to bring education and social services together to focus the services around the child rather than to fit the child around the service. It’s an important way of working.
“Traditionally education departments have criticised social services and social services criticised education departments.
“My aim is not to have children’s services in name but in fact – not just the structure but the wider partnerships and not just the statutory sector – health and police – but also the voluntary sector which is very vibrant in this city.
“That’s the really big challenge. It’s difficult. What we’ve got at the moment is a series of processes but they don’t always work for children.
“In the next year I’m making two important system changes. The Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub is especially important for our work with the police.
“What we’re trying to do is make sure children in the system get the right support. We’re getting a lot of re-referrals.”
The number of “initial contacts” received by children’s social workers – including requests for advice and information as well as referrals for further action – totalled 10,006 from November 2012 to October 2013.
An average of 41 per cent of initial contacts each year require a referral. That’s 4,100 – or 340 a month.
The rate of re-referrals suggests that the initial judgments and decisions are not always as good as they should be.
It is hoped that these will improve as a result of the closer working relationships in the MASH – where key staff sit alongside each other rather than in separate offices.
Mr Ghoshal said: “We’re also setting up an Early Help Hub. The MASH is around safeguarding when things have got serious. The Early Help Hub is about trying to prevent them needing help from the MASH.
“We can ensure children and families are protected early and the right services and support are put in place at the right time.
“What is the right place? Children and families sometimes get bounced between different services.
“Often a school will identify need but may have a limited understanding of what’s out there. And while things are not being sorted, things can get worse.
“A lot of children are receiving statutory social services. I’ve carried out an audit. It shows many need support from social services.
“Children who are in care need to be in care. Our child protection cases need child protection. That’s right but early help would have reduced the numbers.
“It will involve restructuring and the new structures are critical. People won’t see that but it’s really important. If we can get it right, it will be a lasting legacy for the city.”
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