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Concept Of Collaborative Working Social Work Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

Social Work is at an important stage in its development as a profession – not only in the United Kingdom but around the world. All professions must be responsive and proactive to changing social and economic climates and conditions if they are to meet the needs of the people they are serving.

It is essential for Social Workers to be able to practise in accordance with social work values and to retain a clear professional identity, and at the same time to be able to work effectively with other professional groups and agencies.

Although there are many terms used to describe working together with other professions such as joint working, inter-professional working, multi-disciplinary working and inter-agency working the term currently used by the Department of Health publications is collaborative practice (Whittington 2003b). New ways of working that crossed professional boundaries had to be created, in order to allow a more flexible approach to care delivery (Malin et al, 2002).

Collaboration in health and social care is a relatively new field of study, with the first major studies being undertaken in the 1980s (Roy, 2001). In health and social care collaborative working is often referred to as Inter-professional working, as it is not just about professionals working together. The patients, clients or service users are a central part of the team.

At its simplest the concept of collaboration infers that people from different professional and academic backgrounds form a working relationship for the purpose of enhanced service provision. However, the exact nature of the partnership is likely to be contested, whilst fully integrated ‘joined-up’ collaborative practice has so far proved elusive.

Effective communication is an essential component of the traditional social work roles and responsibilities. It is therefore equally necessary for social workers to also have effective communication skills if they are to promote self-help and empowerment to those whom they are providing a service for.

Lishman (1994) reminds us that care managers and providers ‘will have to use a range of communication and interpersonal skills if community care is really to mean care, choice and empowerment of others.’ Collaborative working implies: “conscious interaction between the parties to achieve a common goal” (Meads & Ashcroft, 2005). It recognises both difference & similarity.

Collaboration is a process by which members of different disciplines share their skills and expertise to provide a better quality service to patients, clients or service users (Hughes, Hemingway & Smith, 2005). The sharing of information means both getting information and giving it. The act of gaining information in Social Work is an essential task – the information gained can be used for numerous purposes such as:

Making an assessment of need or risk

Writing a report

Planning an intervention

To justify obtaining resource

The ‘something’ or benefit is sometimes called ‘collaborative advantage’, and it can be seen as the fuel of collaborative working – the greater the potential or actual advantage gained by all parties, the greater the levels of energy fuelling the collaboration.

According to Wilson (2008) and Hughes, Hemmingway & Smith (2005) inter-professional and collaborative working means considering the service user in a holistic way, and it benefits the service user when different organisations, such as Social Workers, District Nurses, Occupational Therapists and other health professionals come together to provide a better service. These definitions describe collaborative working as the act of people working together toward common goals. Integrated working involves putting the service user at the center of decision making to meet their needs and improve their lives (Dept. Health, 2009).

Effective collaboration and interaction will have positive outcomes within a working environment for both the teams working together and the service user. Agencies should be encouraged to share information to ensure that all needs of the service users are met but also to ensure the safety of the service user and the other teams involved.

Caring for People (Dept. Health, 1989) stated that “successful collaboration required a clear, mutual understanding by every agency of each other’s responsibilities and powers, in order to make plain how and with whom collaboration should be secured.”

The government has been promoting inter-agency and collaborative working since the late 80’s which also saw a change in the policies set forth by the governments and a legislative backdrop was created to promote self-collaboration between companies. The stated aim has been to ‘create high quality, needs-led, co-ordinated services that maximised choice for the service user.’ (Payne, 1995). Recent events and media outcries have focused collaborative working solely on Social Work as stated in Pollard, Sellman & Senior (2005) and when viewed as a “good thing”, it is worthwhile to critically examine its benefits and drawbacks. (Leathard, 2003).

The old government set forth plans to modernize the Social Services as well as update the NHS. A clear indication of this can be found in NHS Plan (Dept. Health, 2000) and Modernizing the Social Services (Dept. Health, 1998a). This was not in fact a new plan it was part of a growing emphasis stemming from the 1970s. The death of Maria Coldwell in 1974 meant there were questions asked why professionals were not able to protect children who they had identified as most at risk.

The Cleveland Inquiry 1988 resulted in the direct opposite of 1974 when the methods of the Social Services were deemed too strict and over powering, it was deemed that children were removed from their families when there was ‘little concrete evidence of harm or abuse’ (Butler-Sloss, 1988), with too much emphasis put on the medical opinion.

The old government set forth plans to modernize the Social Services as well as update the NHS. A clear indication of this can be found in NHS Plan (Dept. Health, 2000) and Modernizing the Social Services (Dept. Health, 1998a). This was not in fact a new plan it was part of a growing emphasis stemming from the 1970s. The death of Maria Coldwell in 1974 meant there were questions asked why professionals were not able to protect children who they had identified as most at risk.

The Cleveland Inquiry 1988 resulted in the direct opposite of 1974 when the methods of the Social Services were deemed too strict and over powering, it was deemed that children were removed from their families when there was ‘little concrete evidence of harm or abuse’ (Butler-Sloss, 1988), with too much emphasis put on the medical opinion.

The Munro Report (2010) stated that ‘other service agencies cannot and should not replace Social Worker’s, but there is a requirement for agencies to engage professionally about children, young people and families on their caseloads.

The Children’s Act 2004 was introduced after the public inquiry into the death of Victoria ClimbiĆ© in 2000; the same public inquiry also resulted in the Every Child Matters movement. The failure to collaborate effectively was highlighted as one of many missed opportunities by the inquiry into the tragic death of Victoria ClimbiĆ© (Laming, 2003) and Baby Peter (Munro, 2010).

Expressing what you all want to achieve in clear, outcomes-oriented language, and being able to continually recheck those outcomes as your work together proceeds, is the single most important key to successful collaboration. However, it is actually quite difficult to express outcomes in ways that are unambiguous and clearly understood by all of the potential or actual collaborators.

The quality of communication is vital. Poor communication is often behind many of the disputes that threaten to stall collaborative working relationships. Clear lines of communication need to be established across the institutions that make up a consortium to ensure everyone is aware of and is able to carry out the accepted policies and procedures. Accountabilities, in particular, should be well defined.

Participation and involvement of service user is also critical in the Social Work field. This after all is the main beneficiary of the collaborative working scheme and your goal as a Social Worker is to meet their needs and goals. If you show the service user respect they too will give you a mutual respect which will allow the Social Workers and other elements of the collaborative team to achieve their common goals.

However beneficiaries do not have to be aware that an activity is being delivered in partnership for the partnership to be successful. Regular reviews and users’ feedback can help measure its impact.

“Collaborative advantage will be achieved when something unusually creative is produced – perhaps an objective is met – that no organisation could have produced on its own and when each organisation, through collaboration, is able to achieve its own objectives better than it could alone”. (Huxham, 1996).

Huxham was showing that collaboration will work when it is done properly, and when we as Social Workers put aside any prejudices that are under lying in our working mentality and also our personal mentality, we will work well with other fields and practices to form a more efficient and organised service.

By learning with, from and about one another practitioners can understand respective roles and responsibilities, generate mutual trust, strengthen relationships and improve collaborative practice (Barr et al 2005). To summarise and conclude the development of collaborative working will undoubtedly require a change in culture and values amongst health and social care professionals; however it is working and developing quickly and for the better of not just the collaborating agencies but also for the service users.


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