When the multiagency safeguarding hub (MASH) receives a contact, the MASH screening officers for social care first check if the child already has a social worker. If there is an allocated social worker, they are considered to be the best person to support the child.
If there is no social worker, then the MASH screening officers (qualified social workers) assess the level of risk based on information known on the local authority IT database.
Currently one of the most influential risk assessments in use in the UK helping practitioners with risk assessment and safety planning for non-statutory and statutory cases is The ‘Signs of Safety’ model. Created by Andrew Turnell and Steve Edwards in Western Australia during the 1990s, Signs of Safety is now used in at least 12 different countries across Australasia, North America and Europe
Many multiagency models have adapted and taken aspects of the Signs of Safety and now use this as an approach at the front door to inform and manage risk and safety aspects for planning future interventions. The principles and practice of the Signs of Safety have been formulated as a response to a number of the systemic challenges identified in child and family systems. Indeed, many of these were critiqued in the Munro review in 2011 with its emphasis on Early Help given to families and prevention of high risk to children.
This robust risk analysis is sanctioned by the MASH manager who confirms the risk level with a blue, red, amber, green (BRAG) rating. The BRAG rating reflects the Level of Needs document used as guidance to inform decision making.
If the rating is blue then the contact is directed to a universal service, or kept as information on record. A green is passed to Early Help for coordination of service provision (targeted or commissioned services) and/or advice between family and professionals – deemed as a step down case. An amber generally speaking is considered as requiring a statutory assessment under child in need (CIN) and a red is classified as a child protection (CP) investigation – ambers and reds are stepped up to social care without any delay.
In cases following risk assessment and when there remains an unknown risk, the MASH manager may decide the need for a MASH enquiry. Consent before initiation is checked again and recorded. On initiation the partners signed up to the information sharing agreement (referred to as the ISA) are engaged and who in turn research their own IT databases, share information NRP about the family and indicate the BRAG based on their findings and the guidance document.
The MASH manager uses the collected information to decide the best response to meet the needs. The manager may:
- Signpost the case for statutory assessment (or leave it with them, if they’ve already started their assessment and the enquiry was made as a result of a new unknown risk in the household);
- Signpost the case to Early Help
- Signpost the case to Troubled Families
- Advice the referrer and parent on Universal support services
The service that receives the case will receive a summary of any appropriate information gathered by the MASH.
Children and families embedded in decision making
Munro in 2011 highlights that there are consequences for those families who are drawn unnecessarily into the net for a statutory intervention, ‘for these families, the experience ranges from unpleasant to highly traumatic, sometimes leaving them with a fear of asking for help in the future.…It is important to remember that the search for accuracy comes with a human cost that is borne by a child and parent (Munro 2nd Report)
Having a multiagency model for children’s pathways that incorporates both Early Help and Safeguarding services ensures coordination between professionals and families and ensures oversight on all step up and step down cases with clear communication and without in-built delay. Pathways linked operationally to strategic development, commissioning and governance through such a model ensures different functions are incorporated to ensuring that children receive the support they need at the right time and in the right way in relation to prevention and intervention services.
The current Ofsted inspection evaluation guidance includes judgement on whether:
- ‘thresholds between Early Help and statutory child protection are appropriate, understood and operate effectively’
- ‘thresholds for intervention accord with the requirements of legislation …and are consistently applied, well embedded and regularly updated’
- ‘Drift and delay are avoided’.
Practitioners on the frontline responding to the needs of children and young people require a guidance document to ensure support is provided to all services working with children and families to be able to feel safe, secure and well-supported in making decisions.
Supporting practitioners across agencies in making these decisions should be a key feature of any approach.
Earlier interventions, when children are very young or when problems first emerge, are likely to be the most effective for long-term outcomes. This means a focus on the earlier years but also on tackling problems as soon as they become apparent, whatever the age of the child or young person
Working Together 2013 articulates the need for Early Help to be “coordinated through a range of effective, evidence-based services is crucial to address assess needs early. The Early Help on offer should draw upon the local assessment of need and the latest evidence of the effectiveness of early help and early intervention programmes.
“In addition to high quality support in universal services, specific local Early Help services will typically include family and parenting programmes, assistance with health issues and help for problems relating to drugs, alcohol and domestic violence. Services may also focus on improving family functioning and building the family’s own capability to solve problems; this should be done within a structured, evidence-based framework involving regular review to ensure that real progress is being made. Some of these services may be delivered to parents but should always be evaluated to demonstrate the impact they are having on the outcomes for the child.”
Earliest identification drives the 3 Key functions of the MASH model – Victim identification, early identification and harm reduction. This should lead to the identification of support needed by a particular child and their family and to the provision of an offer of help where needs are addressed at any level of the continuum to reduce escalation down the line.
By Marisa De Jager