Many staff in schools work with other agencies from time to time, such as health and social services. Here we outline training that is beneficial to all staff working with children in a multi-agency environment

Common Assessment Framework (CAF) training for lead professionals is currently driving multi-agency training for staff in schools. The ‘cause for concern’ threshold of intervention involves bringing agencies together to form a team around the child. However, other training and resources are available for front line support staff to be better able to work with pupils where there is a cause for worry and the need for low-key, day-to-day preventative work. This is the focus of the Common Core of Skills and Knowledge for the children’s workforce – see: http://www.cwdcouncil.org.uk/common-core

To help promote reference to the Common Core, the Children’s Workforce Development Council has developed a training programme for level 3 / 4 practitioners such as learning mentors, parent support advisers and other inclusion staff. Five modules cover the principles and values of working with children, young people and their families as well as key guidance, case studies, activity scenarios and additional reading.

Together, the practitioner training handbooks provide a powerful resource for support staff to understand the approaches used by social care and health professionals in working with vulnerable children and young people. The level 3 / 4 training materials can be downloaded at
http://www.cwdcouncil.org.uk/ldss/induction/cwdc-induction-training/cwdc-induction-training-materials-downloads

Working through the CWDC practitioner training programme and cross-referencing the modules with the six areas of knowledge and skills in the Common Core, will enable teaching assistants and other members of staff to understand the chief parameters of multi-agency working.

Module 1: Principles, values and legislation
The historic background to Every Child Matters is explained, to show how the Victoria Climbie tragedy resulted in the policy of integrated working around better outcomes and the 2004 Children’s Act. This ties together the modern children’s workforce focus on a child’s welfare, as enshrined in law and human rights legislation. This is then explored in the notion of person-centred practice so that interventions become driven by a child’s choices and desires, rather than service targets or priorities.

This is reflected in the first skill identified in the Common Core – ‘Effective Communication with children and their parents and carers’. The key principle is listening first, rather than jumping to judgements, and taking account of a family’s culture and context.

Module 2: Understanding children and young people’s development
This module introduces inclusion workers to a number of psychological perspectives on development, such as Maslow’s Hierarchy, attachment theory and boundary management. One of the key principles is relating to a child or young person on the basis of ‘stage not age’, based on the cycles of development theory. So, for example, a key stage 2 pupil who is going through a difficult transition as a result of her parents’ break up, may revert to an earlier stage of behaviour, becoming more ‘clingy’ and needing more support and reassurance in school, to overcome her anxieties about what is going on at home.

Child and young person development is the second skill identified in the common core and stresses the need to look for signs of regression and developmental delay in a child’s behaviour.

Module 3: Building relationships with children and families
This module identifies three key issues. Firstly, accurate records of assessments are based on raising concerns with parents in appropriate and effective ways through overcoming barriers to effective communication. For example, assessment should always be transparent, consensual and collaborative. The next key skill is solution-based working, so that planning sessions with children and parents is based on a sense of progression and strategies for overcoming difficulties. This creates an emphasis on solutions not problems, the future not the past and what to do, not who to blame. Thirdly, an understanding of transitions is explored, in order to help children and their families develop greater resilience in the face of loss, poverty or ill health.

The Common Core stresses the importance of supporting children to cope with difficult experiences in their lives and that parents and carers may also need increased reassurance, advice and support at these times.

Module 4: Keeping children and young people safe from harm
The first issue in this module covers understanding safeguarding and protecting children and the risks of different kinds of harm that can be presented in the form of adults, other children, such as bullying, and other sources such as the internet. For example, there is increased risk to children from parents experiencing various kinds of problems themselves, such as drug and alcohol-related issues, as well as domestic violence. Each week 600 children are added to the child protection registers with currently 260,000 children on such registers, while at least 450,000 children are bullied at school. This module explains the work of local safeguarding boards, how children can report abuse and the process of making a child abuse referral. In addition, health and safety is addressed in terms of risk assessment, as well as accident prevention.

The Common Core highlights the skills around information sharing and understanding local inter-agency working arrangements and recognising the boundaries of one’s own personal competence and responsibility, knowing when to involve peers, managers and or professional bodies and where to go to get guidance and support.

Module 5: Integrated working
This module introduces the Department for Education ‘windscreen’ or continuum to understand the thresholds of intervention that may be required at ‘Tier 2′ of additional needs. The principles around ‘information sharing protocols’, the CAF and lead professional role are described to understand how they relate to the work of support staff and others involved with a child or their family. For example, local authority social service departments are charged to keep a directory of services that can be accessed by all families, while the Family Information Service can be key to signposting families to a wide range of support services in their local community, for example, from Sure Start play and stay and toy library sessions to adventure playground dedicated sessions for children with special educational needs.

The Common Core encourages the inclusion worker to form judgements around when they can support a child directly or need to refer on to another professional practitioner.

Finally – an accreditation opportunity around supporting children and young people
The Training and Development Agency (TDA) has commissioned a children’s workforce qualification – the ‘Support Work in Schools’ VQ award. Unlike a traditional NVQ which usually takes a year and covers 11 or 12 modules, the SWIS Award can be achieved through four units completed at the student’s own pace. The two compulsory units are designed for participants to reflect on their own experience and practice, as mapped out by the Common Core of Skills and Knowledge for the Children’s Workforce. Local authority workforce managers have funding available for inclusion and support staff to take up the SWIS Award and can provide mentoring support. Taken together, the CWDC’s Practitioner Handbooks, along with the Common Core of Skills and Knowledge for the Children’s Workforce, provides a set of training materials that will definitely promote greater confidence in support staff in their day-to-day work with vulnerable pupils, as well as encouraging them to pursue further training and career development.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in July 2010

About the author: Nick Holt is an education consultant; he set up Studyscool.co.uk to make extended services easier for schools and local authorities

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