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Children's Services: Working together.

Children's Services: Working together Malcolm Hill, George Head, Andrew Lockyer, Barbara Reid and Raymond Taylor (eds) Pearson 2012 391 pages 24.99 [pounds sterling]

This collection of essays 'is intended to provide knowledge about policy, theory, research and practice relevant to all professionals who work with children and those training to join such professions' (p 1). The editors make clear that they take a 'salad not soup' approach [my terminology not theirs] to inter-agency, inter-professional and inter-sectoral practice and training: quality services have to be delivered by the different professionals who bring their specialist knowledge and expertise to the multi-disciplinary teams and networks formed around individual children and families. So the chapters do not seek to cover the knowledge and skills base for the different professions working with children and families but rather to complement single disciplinary initial and post-qualifying training, to assist them in working together more effectively.

As with all edited collections, readers are likely to be selective about the chapters that are of most interest to them. Some authors provide knowledge about their own professional mandates, know ledge base and ways of working as an aid to better mutual understanding and empathy within teams and networks, while others explore the ideas under pinning joint working and theories on 'how to' better work together.

The book is divided into four parts, each with a reflective introduction by the editors. Part one focuses on policy and reviews the legislation, guidance and government initiatives that seek to achieve 'joined-up' working in the UK nations. It also includes a chapter by Walter Lorenz and Sylvia Fargion on developments in Europe. These chapters are mainly factual and descriptive, and will be especially useful to qualifying and early career practitioners. An exception is the chapter by Harry Daniels and Anne Edwards, which uses empirical research to take the analysis of service integration up a notch.

Part two is on 'community and participation', with examples from Early Years services, community policing and extended schools, together with three chapters on young people as citizens and as agents in the delivery, design and review of services.

Part three has chapters introducing the evidence base and theories for practice that are common to some if not all the professions (including infant mental health, understanding learning disability, and attachment and loss). Readers of Adoption & Fostering will find Robbie Gilligan's chapter on children's social networks particularly interesting, with its emphasis on the importance of valuing and nurturing children's 'weak' as well as their 'strong' relationships. This chimes with the chapter by Joan Forbes and Elspeth McCartney discussing the relevance to an understanding of joint working (in families as well as professional networks) of 'social capital' theories (conceptualised in terms of 'bonding' 'bridging' and 'linking' capital). These 'newer' (at least to social work) theories provide a balance to the place often given to attachment theory as the overarching theory for understanding relationships within foster and adoptive families. The wider adoptive and foster kinship networks (with a place for 'weaker' but still important links with birth family members) can be understood in these terms.

Part four takes up the 'working together' themes introduced earlier by Daniels and Edwards, with a chapter by Michael Hill helpfully outlining and critiquing the different organisational arrangements for working together. These chapters address some of the challenges and opportunities presented by the mandate to seek to provide joined up services.

I sympathise with the editors' need to find a way of dividing up the huge task they set themselves, in both providing 'knowledge for' the different professionals as well as knowledge about 'how to' work together more effectively. However, I found that asking the chapter authors to fit their content into a particular section meant that some important questions were raised but not followed through. Bill Whyte provides an informative account of developments in youth justice policy and practice, but barely touches on the strengths and weaknesses of the youth offending teams that are so often cited as the model for multidisciplinary team working. The chapters by Eva Lloyd comparing Sure Start local programmes with the 'rolled out' model of Children's Centres, and by Alan Dyson on full-service schools, provide interesting insights on other service delivery models that are used as examples of multi-disciplinary teams, but stopped short of developing the lessons for joint working that should be informing current developments. We are beyond the stage of eulogising 'joint working' and calling for more 'multidisciplinary teams', and should be thinking about the circumstances in which 'multi-disciplinary teams', 'co-locating', 'out-posting', networks/core groups or teams formed specifically around a particular family or child work best with which children and families in which circumstances.

The publishers describe this as a 'textbook'. To me it falls somewhere between a 'textbook' that will be accessible to qualifying programme students (the 'exercises' clearly have this group in mind) and a 'reader' providing food for thought to experienced professionals, post-qualifying students and their lecturers. The chapters are all well written by authors from a range of disciplines, who are steeped in their areas of policy, theory or practice: there is an extensive bibliography and an index. Children's Services is rich in information and raises important issues and questions about the art and science of 'working together' but, in its brave attempt to meet the needs of such a wide readership, leaves many of them still up in the air.

June Thoburn is Emeritus Professor of Social Work, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK
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Author:Thoburn, June
Publication:Adoption & Fostering
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2012
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