Practitioners and professionals should feel free to consult with each other when determining a course of action for children and young people with additional needs. Research and experience has shown repeatedly that supporting a child or young person’s well-being and keeping them safe from harm requires professionals and others to share information about the young person’s health and development and their exposure to possible harm.  This may be about a child who is being bullied or bullying, or experiencing a bereavement. Or about a parent who may not be able, or may need help, to care for a child or young person adequately and safely.  Or it may be about those who may pose a risk of harm to a child. Often, it is only when information from a number of sources has been shared and is then put together that it becomes clear that a child is in need of support.

Consultation is a sharing of information between workers, following joint processes or procedures on consent and information sharing, in order to gain the perspectives of another service. It is not a referral to another agency, unless that is explicitly agreed during the consultation. ‘Ownership’ of the case remains with the agency initiating the consultation. Consultations would initially follow own agency line management procedures and then, where necessary, through to external agency liaison.  Following internal line-management consultations, practitioners can discuss their safeguarding or well being concerns with the MASH (Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub) or with Merton Enhanced Services. Any existing agency involvement at lower levels of concern may be identified by contacting the Central CASA Teamwho will be able to provide existing or previous contact details of practitioner/agencies leading on any such CASA or CAF undertaken. Consultation may then range from a single telephone call – for example, to seek a view about whether an agency can provide a particular service – through to a more formal arrangement where two workers agree a series of meetings during, for example, a complex assessment. It is important that families are aware of and, wherever possible, involved in consultation discussions. Both parties should agree the record of such discussions.

The Merton Child and Young Person Well Being Model relies upon willingness for positive consultation between all agencies working with a child or young person. Consultation will provide an opportunity for those working with a child, young person or family to access additional knowledge and expertise from suitably qualified and experienced staff from a range of agencies in order to explore a concern, and decide how best to respond to it.  An awareness and appreciation of the roles of others is essential for effective collaboration.

Principles

  • Agencies must have a genuine desire to work together in the best interests of the child or young person.
  • Consultation is a two way process and demonstrates an acknowledgement of different but equally valuable knowledge and expertise.
  • Consultation should be with the person in each agency who has the most recent knowledge of the family or the most relevant knowledge or skills.
  • Information should be shared in a spirit of openness but with due regard for confidentiality in the best interests of the child and family.
  • Consultation should be available to all organisations that have a professional or operational involvement with a child or family.
  • Consultation may be used in any situation where there are genuine grounds for concern for the well being of a child and family.
  • Consultation should not be seen as a way of transferring ownership of a ‘problem’ unless this is the agreed outcome of discussions, at which stage a formal referral will be made or an agreement regarding on-going joint working will be recorded
  • Communications with other professionals should be followed up in writing to ensure clarity of agreement and as part of audit trail provision.

Consultation as part of the assessment process

Practitioners or professionals can act as consultants or advisers to assist and contribute to the assessment process, which includes analysis of information gathered. Consultation may help to clarify whether a single agency or multi-agency response is most appropriate.

Consultation may be as useful to an assessment as the commissioning of specialist assessments

A key principle of the Assessment Framework 2000 is recognising that children or young people’s needs and their families’ circumstances may require inter-agency collaboration to ensure both full understanding of what is happening and effective service response.

Before Consultation

  • Identify most appropriate agencies
  • Consider whether the family’s consent needs to be sought. For a Child Protection enquiry, consent need not be sought. However, good practice would dictate that attempts are made to get parental consent unless this would put the child at greater risk or hamper a police investigation. Each professional should be prepared to exercise his or her judgement in such situations. A failure to pass on information capable of preventing a tragedy could expose a worker to criticism in the same way as would an unjustified disclosure. [For further information on Consent and Confidentiality see Information Sharing
  • Have gathered information which, for early help concerns, is recorded on a copy of a Common and Shared Assessment form.
  • Include Chronology (practitioner contact with family; incidents record; work already done with the family)
  • Identify strengths and needs of family
  • Identify areas of concern

During Consultation

The person asking for advice should:

  • be clear about what the concern is and what is needed from the consultation
  • offer evidence to support the concern and its possible impact on the child or other children
  • outline what the agency has already done about the concern
  • indicate what the impact of this has been
  • share only such other knowledge of the child and family as may be necessary to clarify whether the child or other children may be in need of support or safeguarding services
  • initial consultation may be anonymised where appropriate
  • be open to suggestions made for the way forward
  • make notes of agreed decisions ( as outlined in next sub-section below)

The professional giving advice should :

  • seek clarification where there are any uncertainties about what is involved
  • determine whether consent has been obtained to share information
  • determine the appropriateness of not seeking, or overriding, parental permission
  • record detail of the discussion and of decisions made (as in next sub-section).

Recording Practice

  • Consultation must be recorded when professional advice has been given about how to intervene with family members.  This should be the responsibility of the person being asked for the consultation, in line with own agency procedures and guidance.  A copy should be provided, with due regard to security considerations (further in section on Secure Exchange), to the person who asked for the consultation.
    • Where the child is identified in the consultation, the Common and Shared Assessment (CASA)  form should be used to record this information for early help concerns
    • For statutory level concerns, recording should be undertaken accounting to own agency procedures
    • For informal advice or signposting, a brief note only on each agencies own record suffices.
  • It is the responsibility of staff requesting consultation to inform families of the outcome and of any actions to follow, and to ensure that the record of consultation recommendations is accurate, and there is no confusion about the actions agreed.

Ongoing Consultation

  • If the case is particularly complex it may be necessary to agree that ongoing consultation is appropriate. In such cases it would be preferable if the same person could offer the agency consultation on each occasion.
  • In cases of ongoing consultation it may be necessary for a meeting to take place between the worker asking for consultation, the consultant, or the child, young person or family.

After Consultation

  • Carry out and record agreed action as appropriate.
  • For Early Help, consider making a Referral, or calling a multi-agency Team Around the Child/Family (TAC/TAF) meeting.
  • Collect appropriate information, in accordance with own agency procedures.
  • If appropriate, set a Review date.