Learning together to safeguard children: developing a multi-agency systems approach for case reviews

Introduction - Who needs to learn and from whom?

  • Learning, like safeguarding, needs to be everyone’s business.
  • This is a system-wide approach, not something only for managers to request that practitioners undertake.
  • Frontline workers from different agencies and professions need opportunities to learn about and from each other.
  • Senior managers and policy makers need to be open to learning from those at the ‘sharp end’.
  • In a multi-agency context it is increasingly difficult to predict with any certainty the impact of new policies and guidance, strategic and operational decisions on direct work with children and young people, their carers and families.

Translating current policy aspirations into practice requires learning across boundaries of two different kinds: across agency and professional boundaries, and across hierarchical and management boundaries. It is for this reason that we have titled the full report ‘Learning together’ – echoing ‘Working Together’ (HM Government, 2006), the key guidance in England and Wales on multi-agency working to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. If safeguarding is everyone’s business, learning must be too, and this includes people at all levels in the system – senior managers and policy makers as well as frontline practitioners.

Integrated professional practice means that practitioners need to have an understanding of the commonalities and differences between their professional patterns of thought and action. Therefore, they need opportunities and methods for learning from and about each other. By including practitioners from multiple agencies and professions in the case review process, the systems approach offers a valuable mechanism for achieving this.

People at a senior management level locally and regionally, and well as policy makers at a national level, also need opportunities and methods for learning from frontline workers and firstline managers. With so many agencies with varying priorities interacting, it becomes increasingly difficult to predict with any certainty what the effects of any change to working practices will be. Factors that, on their own, are safe may become unsafe as they interact with other factors both within and between agencies (Axelrod and Cohen, 1999). A practice-led view is necessary, therefore, in order to help highlight for senior management how new policies and guidance, strategic and operational decisions impact on direct work with children, young people and their carers and families. The systems approach provides this.

Next section: Key concepts and fundamental assumptions.