1. Background (Multi agency working)
There is a wealth of governmental documentation and policy reforms upholding the notion of agencies working in partnership to support vulnerable children. Previously to these reforms there had been a history of fragmentation between agencies and the therefore a inherent failure to share information resulting in catastrophic gaps in the support of vulnerable children. This was emphasised by Lord Laming (2002), and then the subsequent investigations and publication of the Climbie report (2003) post the preventable death of Victoria Climbie. The perceived importance of early identification and intervention as demonstrated in Every Child Matters. (2003, p3), DoH/DfES. (2004) ‘We have to do more both to protect children and ensure each child fulfils their potential' and the need for ‘more co-located, multi-agency service in providing personalised support'.
The Children's Act. (2004) was the culmination of the Green Paper DfES. (2003) Every Child Matters:Change for Children Agenda, which dictated that every local authority has power to administer grouped budgets and implement a Children's Trust in order to pull together services to meet the specific needs of an individual child. Wilson, V. & Pirrie, A. (2000) states that although partnership working is upheld as extremely beneficial for all children, those children with special educational needs and/or disabilities have formed the focus of much of the educational multi-agency activity. The aims of coordinating these services through a shared working practice across the health and education arena whilst providing a therefore seamless service of support and a one-stop shop for all provisions, supported with the collaboration of Multi-agency working, are strongly emphasised within a plethora of governmental literature DfES. (2003/2004). Joint working is therefore unequivocally viewed as the means of providing a more cohesive and therefore effective integrated approach to addressing the needs of the child and family, and in doing so, overcoming many additional stresses that are imposed on families through fragmented support and services and therefore giving the child the best possible start in life DoH. (2006). Although no one argues against the benefits of integrated services Stiff. (2007), and there is clear decisive backing and direction for local restructuring and reorganisation to shape services to meet the needs of the most vulnerable children more effectively, the detail surrounding the configuration and delivery of local services has not been prescribed Rutter, M. (2006). There is minimal research-based evidence regarding the efficiency of multi-agency practice or suggesting which activity carried out by those agencies is most useful, with no absolute model of the many factors influencing its success Salmon, G. (2004). However, the Government has demonstrated a substantial commitment to local authorities developing multi-agency partnerships, providing considerable flexibility for those local authorities and communities to develop their own multi-agency activities, tailored to meet specific needs of their individual areas. However it has often proved difficult to establish the exact impact of multi-agency working, mainly because of the difficulty of isolating why and how a particular outcome has been achieved. This is changing as major programmes are evaluated, Atkinson et al, (2002) states that other commonly identified outcomes of multi-agency work are an increase in access to services not previously available and therefore a wider range of services, easier or quicker access to services or expertise, improved educational attainment and better engagement in education by pupils, early identification and intervention, better support for parents, children's needs addressed more appropriately, better quality services, a reduced need for more specialist services and benefits for staff within those services.
2. Introduction to the SEN Team (SENCo)
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There are many teams working within the umbrella of education and child services, one particular team is that of the Special Educational Needs team, this case study will focus on the role of the Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCo). The role of the SENCo has been formally established Cowne, E (2003) since the 1994 code of practice DFE (1994) when all schools in England and Wales were required to have a designated teacher in the role of special educational needs coordinator (SENCo). But many schools had SENCo's before that date, as the role had been developing since the mid 1980's when training of SENCo's had begun in most LEAs. The 1994 code of practice DFE (1994) detailed the tasks that should be covered in the role of the SENCo. These tasks included liaising with external agencies including the educational psychology service and other support agencies, medical and social services and voluntary bodies DFE (1994, para 2.14). A revised code of practice Dfes (2001) added the responsibility of managing the SEN team of teachers and learning support assistants within the educational establishment where recently publications.parliament.uk (2006) it's significance was re-affirmed. ‘SENCo's play a key role in building schools' capacity and skills in meeting children's SEN because of their crucial role in advising other members of staff on SEN matters, linking with parents and working within the multi-agency arena.' There is substantial literature related to SENCo's authored by researchers, academics and practitioners, in particular, the nature, remit and working conditions of SENCo's have been the subject of considerable interest. At school-level, the expectations on, activities of and working condition of SENCo's remain highly variable.
3. Barriers - how are they overcome (Theory and practice)
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The achievement of effective multi-agency working within the SEN arena has proved more difficult to achieve than was initially anticipated. In order to create a climate of change where SEN professionals and agencies can work effectively together it is needed that the participants understand what the barriers to change are. Some of the barriers to achieving more effective multi-agency working within the SEN environment that have been identified by DFes (2007) are professionalism; conflicting priorities of different agencies; dealing with risk and the need to change the culture of organisations. Working in collaboration with other professionals and agencies involves SEN and multi-agency workers moving out of their comfort zone and taking risks. Anning, A. (2001, p.8) highlights, ‘However, little attention has been given to two significant aspects of the operationalisation of integrated services. The first is the challenge for SEN workers of creating new professional identities in the ever changing communities of practice (who I am). The second is for workers to openly communicate and share their personal and professional knowledge in order to create a new version of knowledge (what I know) for a new multi-agency way of working.' Lownsbrough, H. and O'Leary, D. (2005) states that ‘Despite the genuine support of Every Child Matters, all SEN professionals are faced with the constant challenge of not reverting back to their comfort zone of their organisational boundaries, their professional authority and life inside these traditional boundaries can be far less complex and threatening, and after years of working in a particular fashion they are not easily forgotten. Although no one argues against the benefits of integrated services of multi-agency working Stiff, R. (2007), and there is clear strategic backing and direction for local restructuring and reorganisation to configure SEN services to meet the needs of the most vulnerable children more effectively. There is still little research-based evidence regarding the efficiency of multi-agency strategies or suggesting which activity is most useful, with no comprehensive model of the issues influencing its success Salmon, G. (2004). However, Government has demonstrated substantial commitment to local authorities developing multi-agency partnerships of which SEN is part of, and also providing considerable flexibility for local authorities and communities to develop their own multi-agency activities, tailored to meet their own local needs.”Joined-up'' working has deep implications for the professionals working within the SEN teams, and for the agencies that commission their services. In multi-agency team work, professional knowledge boundaries could have a tendency to become blurred, professional identity can become challenged as roles, and responsibilities change. Some SEN team members may struggle to cope with the fragmentation of one version of their professional identity before a new version can be built. Moreover, the rapid pace of SEN reform leaves little time for adjustment as SEN teams move (often within tight time scales) from strategic planning to operational implementation, with little time for joint training Birchall, E. & Hallett, C. (1995).
However, it could also be said Freeman, M, Miller & Ross, (2002); Harker, Dobel-Ober, Berridge & Sinclair, (2004) that SEN team members are more likely to deliver on their objectives with sufficient planning and support from partnering agencies that established the teams in the first place which inturn leads on to empower inter-professional collaboration which include not only enhancing coordination structurally, but also establishing a culture of ‘‘commitment'' at a strategic and operational plane to overcome professionally differentiated attitudes.
4. The Way Forward
It has been said Bowlby, J. (1988) that children need a secure base from which to explore the world. SEN practitioners also need a secure base in the knowledge that has been acquired though training and practice. Perhaps there is a need for an individual to value what they know and be confident about their knowledge. At the same time to be aware that their professionalism relies on constant updating of working practice and skills via work training and further education, and being aware that there is always something new to be learnt or shared. SEN Professionals now and in the future need to be able to draw on the professional skills that they have, but not to be dominated by them. If they are secure in what they know it could be said that this should enable them to have the confidence to challenge their own thinking and to be open to the different perspectives of other multi-agency professionals. Therefore it can be said that If SEN professionals are to challenge themselves and others through collaborative dialogue they would also need to be emotionally contained themselves Bion, W. (1962). This act requires good honest SENCo leadership and a culture where trusting relationships can be built. Harris, B. (2004) described trusting relationships as broadly taking place within three dimensions, based in conceptions of ‘emotionality'. Effectively these dimensions add up to conditions in which staff first experience a sense of their own value within an organization, in which they feel comfortable about their own abilities and needs; second that through supportive relationships within the organization they reflect upon practice, in dialogue with colleagues, and thirdly they work together to create change and improvement in the setting, or organization, confident of support. Clearly, in order to build effective and trusting relationships SEN team members would need to understand themselves and to have the confidence to share more with others. This process of cultural change is essential if multi-agency working is going to be able to provide better services to children and their families alike.
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