Pavilion Editorial Director Andrew Chilvers considers the positives of joint working on child protection:
This week Hackney came under the spotlight after a coroner's report slated the local health and social services for the horrific killings of 10-year-old Antoine Gamor-Ogunkoya and his three-year-old sibling Kenniece in 2007.
The brutality of their deaths at the hands of their mother, Vivian, is beyond belief, involving attacks with a claw hammer and suffocation with cling film. She had been suffering from paranoid delusions believing that her children were not really hers; she claimed her own children had died at birth.
At the time of the killings, Vivian Gamor was being treated for mental illness, but social workers had allowed her unsupervised overnight visits and on one of these she killed her children. Assistant deputy coroner Selena Lynch blamed the deaths on a "catalogue of failures" by health and social care professionals in Hackney and believed the children would still be alive if people had done their jobs properly.
The brutal killings of the brothers come at a time of intense public and media speculation and moral panics around safeguarding children. As always, these periodic public debates often result in the knee-jerk rush into regulation by politicians who need to be seen to be acting in the face of such criticism.
When Education Secretary Michael Gove recently spoke about the failure of the state and the various agencies to protect children, his was a well put case for raising the safeguarding bar nationally and across all agencies. But he failed to point out in his speech that his own government places health and social services under unbearable financial pressures resulting in a breakdown of the very services he's criticising for failing to do a proper job. Such swingeing cuts will only result in further tragic stories of child deaths in the months and years ahead.
But despite these dire predictions, it's worth remembering that even in the face of the biggest funding cuts to hit health and social care, professionals in safeguarding children are taking initiatives to make the world a safer place for the nation's children. There have always been grass roots projects around the country where professionals have worked together for the sake of vulnerable children. Indeed, there are multi agency safeguarding projects now happening in councils as far apart as Devon and Nottinghamshire.
In the capital the London Mayor's office recently issued a directive stating that London boroughs needed to place a new emphasis on cooperation among the childcare professionals in the capital, across agencies and even across boroughs. The aim is for all councils to implement a multi agency safeguarding hub (MASH), to be rolled out across all London boroughs during the next few years. I attended the Safeguarding London Children's conference last Monday [3 December] at Westminster to hear these people talk about the work they're doing.
These safeguarding arrangements will involve the initial merging of services such as adoption, education, youth offending and commissioning services. But such arrangements will also go much further, bringing health and social care professionals together with their colleagues in other agencies, including:
• the police
• voluntary sector
• probationary service
• health visitors
If it works, it will be an impressive organisation and most professionals agree that it has to work from a costs savings as well as a safeguarding point of view.
For the health visitor and nursing professionals this cooperation will mean a focus on recruiting health visitors and school nurses for MASH posts. Indeed, many in the local health service believe designated nurses will be the drivers within health. At the conference, Anna Jones, the designated nurse at Havering, spoke about her experiences as the MASH project lead for the borough. She admitted it was a huge job, but one that she was passionate about - and, most importantly when others have the will, it works.
Everyone at the conference agreed that child protection has to change, but that this change will need to involve the whole community. It's no longer good enough for child protection professionals to work in their historic silos.All speakers at the conference emphasised that safeguarding is an issue that everyone needs be involved in. Working together and sharing best practice, experience and information will ensure that the world will be a safer place for our children.
In the latest issue of the Journal of Family Health Care (click here to subscribe) I've written a report on MASH, what it is and how it works. If we can create a common communication structure, culture and procedure for joint working across agencies and localities, we can significantly reduce further tragedies that result in the deaths of children like 10-year-old Antoine Gamor-Ogunkoya and his brother Kenniece.