Families that have alcohol and mental health problems: a template for partnership working

Getting started

Protocols are the recording of an agreed way of acting, to achieve an agreed purpose. How that agreement comes about, and who makes it, are essential pre-requisites to successful working. The protocols have often been the end result of much hidden work. Details of this are set out below because hidden work is easily forgotten. These processes are the building blocks for successful protocols.

Identify need and desired outcomes

At the very start, it will help to set down what you want to achieve and how you will measure your success in achieving it. You may find that you modify this over time and in collaboration, but clearly stated objectives at this stage will aid joint working. Shared understanding and agreement about the key principles that are outlined in this report will be helpful at this early stage.

Identify key players

You should decide which agencies, and which individuals from within them, to involve, as well as the purpose of this involvement. The map of key players can be complicated, and agencies may consider what is the smallest, most effective group to bring together, either as a first stage, or as an agreed, designated group to take the work forward.

How to involve service users and their supporters

Service users and their supporters belong to the key players group. However, the team noted that service users and supporters were rarely involved in developing the protocols. The team noted that when service users led the work, the quality and content of the protocol was of a different order. The team would argue that service user participation is an essential part of this work, although it may be the area where agencies have the least skill and experience.

Identify relevant legislation and accompanying guidance

There is major legislation and national guidance concerning children and families, mental health, disability and carers, including a growing number of National Service Frameworks. Government expects agencies and professionals at local level to draw up and agree their own more detailed applications conforming to law and guidance. Local protocols must reference national legislation and guidance and be integrated into existing local policy and practice.

As national material is often issued as "stand alone” documents, local implementation will need to build in joint working arrangements with awareness of the range of legislation and guidance involved. This will inevitably mean working with a wider range of law and guidance than usual for all those involved.

Identify what is already in place and what still needs integrating

All agencies will already have some overarching policy and protocols, for example, in child protection. The interface protocol should define all the areas in which these policies should operate.

Identify any gaps in working together

This level of collaboration should build on existing arrangements for working together, such as referral systems between services, shared data bases and systems to identify families in need of integrated services. If these are not in place, they will need to be created.

These preliminary steps will help to agree a shared work plan: