A collaborative ‘big picture’ approach is the best way to support vulnerable children
Luke Bevir argues that we need a ‘big picture’ approach to address the needs of vulnerable children, drawing on knowledge and skills from across all networks of support for children and young people.
The African proverb ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ beautifully captures how a whole community of people must interact to ensure that children grow up to be healthy, happy, and safe. It demonstrates the interconnectedness of society, the networks that shape who we become, and our collective responsibility for each other.
Family and friends, school, neighbours, local community groups, and statutory services, such as social workers and the police, are all part of this community of people.
So why then does our approach to supporting vulnerable children typically focus on a narrow number of professionals?
In my last role at a youth organisation, we supported a young person who had dropped out of school. He and his family had failed to develop a relationship with his social worker, but had a strong bond with his youth workers. He spent many hours each week with his youth workers and trusted them. However, this bond was not recognised by the social worker and they were not part of any meetings with him and his mother. In this case, why should the professionals who know him best not be used in order to give him the best support possible?
Similarly, another young person had been arrested for possession of a knife, but the police did not tell the youth work team who were supporting him. This lack of communication meant the team were unable to provide the targeted help they could’ve done, as well as introduce measures to safeguard themselves and other vulnerable young people interacting with him.
As these examples show, too often it is either difficult or impossible to receive and share information between professionals that are working towards the same goals. Not only does a lack of communication stop professionals providing the best support for our most vulnerable children, but it also can put them and others in danger.
There is a need for a ‘big picture’ approach to services. It is crucial that everyone sees the wider context and draws on the knowledge and skills across the networks of support for children and young people.
We can see the potential for this collaborative method underpinning the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, and its central recommendation to focus on relationships and networks around the child. At a service level, the emerging approach of Family Hubs bring together children’s services, healthcare professionals and the third sector to transform outcomes through an integrated early help model.
What can we take from this? When the aim is to improve outcomes we can’t afford to work in silos. Greater collaboration can lead to more effective services and, ultimately, improve people’s lives.
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