Agenda item

MASH Review and Adoption of a Staffordshire Children's Front Door

Report of the Cabinet Member for Children and Young People



[Clive Cartman-Frost, Head of Access to Services and Family Support and Nisha Gupta, Assistant Director for Children’s Social Care, in attendance or this item]


The Committee considered the report and presentation on the development of MASH arrangements and heard from the Cabinet Member for Children and Young People.


Originally developed in 2011 the Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) for Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent co-located a range of agencies, including police, children’s social care and adult social care, to share information and to meet statutory functions, identify emerging risks and issues, particularly in relation to domestic abuse.


In March 2019, an inadequate Ofsted judgement in respect of Stoke on Trent Childrens Services led to an examination of various elements of practice within that authority. Whilst the original Ofsted judgement had not criticised the MASH, it did comment on the authority’s interaction with it.  As a result, there was a clear indication from interim and permanent senior managers in Stoke-on-Trent that they wished to leave the combined MASH and create separate arrangements. The Committee heard details of the separation process over the subsequent four years. The final separation of governance arrangements in March 2023 gave an opportunity to develop a specific Staffordshire Childrens multi-agency safeguarding arrangement.


Members queried the extended timescale taken by Stoke-on-Trent in their separation from the joint arrangements, noting that developing their own systems had taken longer than the anticipated six months.


The scope of the current MASH arrangements focussed primarily on statutory partners, that is, SCC, police and health and not necessarily partners in Housing, Education, Probation, and the youth offending service for example. As the MASH is developed there will be a need to consider what functions are retained in a centralised service and which are developed using a district footprint to correspond with the place-based approach and the development of Family Hubs and the Police Harm Reduction Hubs.


Members heard that during the 2021 Children’s Transformation process, the Children’s Front Door (at that time called First Response) underwent significant change. This saw predominantly unqualified staff supervised by a small group of social workers being replaced by a team of experienced qualified consultant social workers retaining a small group of unqualified workers, and a single team manager being replaced by two team managers. An IRV system and single phone number for Staffordshire Children’s Advice and Support (SCAS) had now replaced the single First Response phone number. The IRV will be administered and managed by Customer Services and is the single front door for all children’s enquiries. It was anticipated that the IRV system would enable better filtration of calls, enabling the MASH to receive those specific to its function.


The Committee queried whether the change in personnel had taken qualified social workers from front line positions. As part of the Transformation process personnel had moved across different parts of the service. The work force had not been diluted and Staffordshire was also attracting new social workers from other local authorities.


Members received details of new governance arrangements and systems development. They also considered details of the new performance framework and the new multi-agency audit form which had been developed to correspond to grade descriptors. The Committee were informed that two audits had been undertaken so far and that ten further audits were planned over the next year.


The importance of the physical co-location of MASH partners was emphasised in effecting good communication. The MASH was a focused space that promoted excellent working relationships. Members heard that some challenges were present in non-urgent Police checks, where a backlog currently existed. Staffordshire Police were giving consideration to how this backlog could be addressed.


The Committee queried the range of health-based services that were part of the MASH, specifically whether mental health services were included.  A specific health team provided information to the MASH, overseen by MPFT (Midlands Partnership Foundation Trust).  However, this team gathered information from across the health family, including mental health services.


Members considered the range of activity undertaken within the MASH, including child sexual exploitation and modern slavery. The MASH had a clear process to identify concerns, following due diligence.


The Committee had previously considered the Staffordshire Safeguarding Children’s Board Annual Report, during which concerns were raised around the effectiveness of communication. Members asked what barriers prevented effective information sharing and whether GDPR considerations created difficulties and how these were resolved. The “Working Together to Safeguard Children” statutory guidance had considered information sharing and multi-agency working. Whilst some local authorities had retreated to providing statutory functions only, moving away from MASH arrangements, Staffordshire felt the MASH enabled strong partnership working and remained committed to co-location to support this. Whilst the independent chairman of the SSCB had noted that poor information sharing and communication was a common concern in all Serious Case Reviews (SCRs), the Committee were informed that there were no barriers to information sharing within the MASH. GDPR was not used as an excuse to block information within the MASH. However there remained some challenges to information sharing across some Child Safeguarding Practise Reviews (CSPRs), which included the current difficulties with the backlog in non- urgent Police checks. A further challenge existed within the Health sector as systems across Health services weren’t able to share information across the Health Service itself. Information sharing at ground level was therefore not currently well triangulated. The Committee heard that whilst the Independent Chair of the SSCB had been right to raise this as a concern, service leadership had already been aware of these challenges and was working to ameliorate these.


Members queried what data existed to evidence that safeguarding was effective within Staffordshire. Data existed on two levels, from Care Director for Children’s Services and from the information services log for performance. It was suggested that a report evidencing this data be brought to a future O&S meeting.


Resolved: That:

a)   changes to the MASH multi-agency safeguarding arrangements be noted;

b)   a visit to the MASH be arranged for O&S Committee Members to consider first hand the changes made and the effectiveness of communication, information sharing and safeguarding arrangements;

c)   a performance report showing the effectiveness of safeguarding be included on the Committee’s work programme.

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