Integrated working makes a comeback

Good ideas never completely disappear. After early prophecies of doom, the idea of integrated working in the children and youth workforce seems to be enjoying something of a renaissance at present. By Sir Paul Ennals

In the initial months after the election, government announcements all seemed to be returning the sector towards the silo working that we remember from the days before Every Child Matters. The announcement of the closure of the Children’s Workforce Development Council (CWDC) seemed to spell the end of government support for integrated working.

But 18 months on, things are starting to look different. As ministers have examined more closely the detailed work that has been carried out, they have realised it is valuable, improves outcomes and is cost-effective. Week by week, the Department for Education has been finding ways of continuing the development of the children’s workforce in a different way. Support for sections of the workforce came first – work with the early years workforce and educational psychologists is transferring to the new Teaching Agency and support for children’s social workers and social care is moving into DfE, along with support for youth workers, learning support, the parenting workforce and workers with disabled children.

The idea of supporting the children’s workforce as a whole has taken longer to find a new home. The evidence tells us that it is good for children and young people if staff know how to work together, how to assess needs together and understand how best to share information. Evidence also tells us that people within the workforce gain from being trained together, and they appreciate the opportunities to develop their skills and carry their learning into changing jobs throughout their career. Employers know that they benefit from having a flexible, well-trained workforce – it allows managers to be creative in responding to changing needs and it provides a more cost-effective way of delivering services.

But the real breakthrough in government thinking came when its own new policies started to argue for integrated working to be stepped up.

The green paper on special educational needs made a big deal about the need for common assessment and saw the future as one where professionals from across boundaries worked in a team to the benefit of children. In her review of child protection, Eileen Munro argued that effective safeguarding requires better joined-up working across the professions. The early intervention reports from Graham Allen and Frank Field made the case for partnership working with families, with staff who can work across the traditional boundaries of need.

All governments avoid being seen to make a U-turn. But I suspect a lot of senior folk within the DfE and elsewhere are wondering now whether they were right to have announced the closure next spring of CWDC, alongside all the other arms-length bodies that were chosen for headline-grabbing impact.

In April 2012, new structures will be set up to ensure that the employers across the children’s workforce share their ideas. There will be a new way of commissioning support for integrated working. The DfE will develop new ways of bringing together the development of training and qualifications
for all the separate parts of the workforce. There will be less money put into workforce development, for sure – but almost all the elements that made up a highly effective delivery system will be reconstructed.

All of us know we need to work together. It was the right concept when work started on it nearly 10 years ago and it remains the right concept now. In time, the government will realise that the support for this work also needs to be integrated.

Sir Paul Ennals is chair of the Children’s Workforce Development Council