The focus of the Early Years Foundation Stage on the needs of the individual child requires professionals from different backgrounds and disciplines to work together in the child's best interests.
The first time an early years practitioner has to work with other professionals might well be when they are concerned about a child's development, behaviour or emotional welfare.
This can be demanding, as the practitioner has to communicate sensitively with the parents while giving the child as much help as possible. Therefore the practitioner needs to be confident that their knowledge is accurate, which is why multi-agency training is so important.
Elements of working with other professionals can be found in many training courses. For example, a course on Social and Emotional Aspects of Development (SEAD) is likely to include information about working with professionals such as educational psychologists, social workers or possibly bereavement counsellors. A course about communication would explain the role of the speech and language therapists, while training on an enabling environment could cover how the sensory impairment team can help a setting adapt environments to suit children who have special sensory needs.
But the most significant aspect of multi-agency working for the early years workforce is on safeguarding children and child protection.
Catherine Rushforth, an early years practitioner, social worker and systemic family therapist, leads a group of multi-disciplinary professionals offering a range of consultancy work and training on safeguarding children and young people. One of the strengths of the team is that because they come from a range of different professions, they can engage well with, and explain, the work of multi-agency teams.
The training looks at the key area of information sharing. 'This is something some professional services grapple with,' she says. 'There are those who say "I have a duty of confidentiality toward my patient. I cannot share information with you," which is not true.
'Historically there has been a separatist approach. Some services have been quite protective of their professional knowledge and in some cases professional language is used in a way to keep other professional services at a distance by using very technical clinical language.
'We encourage active questioning, with the confidence to say, in a respectful, non-challenging way, "I don't understand you, please could you explain that", without feeling foolish.'
Nicola Hayden, deputy head of Ambler Children's Centre in Islington, London, attended a six-day safeguarding course run by Catherine Rushforth Associates. She says, 'We are a children's centre on a primary school site. As a result of the training, we reviewed and refined our safeguarding procedures across the whole site. We now have some really good systems in place.'
Ms Hayden led a one-day training session to share what she gained from the course with all the staff from the children's centre, outreach teams and school. 'We focused on reflective practice, thinking about ourselves and how we work in teams and how we operate as an organisation, what safe practice looks like and what risky practice would look like,' she says.
Regular information-sharing meetings are now held and a whistleblowing policy has been developed. An aspect of safeguarding features in every inset training day because, she says, 'It is something you have to keep re-visiting.'
Practitioners can use training in multi-agency working to develop their careers. For example, Sean Delaney, operations manager at the Centre for Research in Early Childhood, Birmingham, says its course can be instrumental in supporting emerging leaders who might not have the tag head of setting or head of centre but are looking after teams and are responsible for working with other practitioners.
'Our courses give people the opportunity to build up to an academic qualification,' he says.
'We have students going on now to complete their Masters Degrees whose first entry into the academic world since 'O' levels was when they came here on a course.'
THE EXPERT'S VIEW
Kathy Brodie, Early Years Professional and trainer, says, 'Multi-agency training must prepare practitioners in three ways:
- Up-to-date, relevant information about the types and availability of agencies and professionals they may have to work with
- How and when they should and could contact other professionals, including issues around confidentiality and getting parent or guardian's permission
- Being an advocate for the child at all times.
'I would say there are two sets of circumstances where practitioners will learn about multiagency working - general courses where other professionals may be able to assist practitioners with good practice, and courses aimed at specific job roles which integrate with outside agencies. On both types of courses it is good practice to share experiential learning - that is to say, have some time when practitioners can share experiences and learn from each other.
'Good local training courses will include a list of named contacts such as the local speech and language therapist, children's centre leader and early years consultant, so that practitioners know who to contact. Specialist safeguarding training is strongly advised, so that practitioners know who to contact in their local authority.
'Probably one of the most important documents used is the Common Assessment Framework (CAF). This draws together all the agencies who may be involved with a particular child, including portage, health visitor, social worker and sensory impairment team. as well as the nursery.
'It is important to get up-to-date, specialist training on the CAF, to ensure this vital document is completed correctly. Many local authorities run excellent courses for this. Where more than one agency is involved, one person takes the lead and coordinates the Team Around the Child (TAC), which consists of all the agencies.
'It is worth approaching the local Child Development Centre, usually based at the local hospital or health centre, who have a wealth of specialist knowledge. In my experience they are very willing to share this as part of a formal training day or a visit to the setting to give advice and guidance.'
26 November Promoting Quality Practice - A Focus on Multi-Agency Working and the Role of the Qualified Teacher in Children's Centres. A new one-day course led by Marion Dowling, education consultant, held at Early Excellence, The Old School, Outlane, Huddersfield. T: 01422 311314, www.earlyexcellence.com
Intermediate Child Protection, two-day child protection course explores the role of agencies on the Local Safeguarding Children Boards and how to promote effective participation towards a multi-agency approach, offered by Acorn Childcare. Available for groups of ten. T: 0845 371 0953, www.childcaretraining.co.uk
A Multi-agency Approach in the Early Years Setting, offered by Training Designs. All courses link to the EYFS and can be three or six hours in length, as needed. Individual courses and group workshops. T: 0845 643 4231 M: 07917 095 967, www.trainingdesigns.com
Establishing and Leading Multi-Agency Teams, devised by Prof Christine Pascal and Prof Tony Bertram of the Centre for Research in Early Childhood and offered by its training arm Amber Publications and Training. T: Sean Delany on 0121 464 0020. www.amberpublications.org.uk
Safeguarding Children and Young People, training for multi-agency teams, by Catherine Rushforth Associates. Includes bespoke courses for a whole setting to six-day courses for lead managers. T: 0208 305 0939, www.catherinerushforthandassociates.co.uk
Level 2 Certificate and Level 3 Diploma for the Children and Young People's Workforce.The core units of the new Level 2 and 3 qualifications cover multi-agency working, which can be taken as part of a programme of CPD. Two free downloadable toolkits designed to help both managers and practitioners starting out in multi-agency working are available from the Children's Workforce Development Council. Each toolkit provides hints and considerations when setting up multi-agency teams. The Share Street area of its website has information on multi-agency working. www.cwdcouncil.org.uk/multiagencyworking/toolkits
Next month: Communication and language