Beryl Burkitt describes how her school’s multi-professional team (MPT) enables joined-up working and aims to support learners

The aim of our multi-professional team (MPT) is to service the needs of its learners and support them in reaching their full potential, both educationally and socially. The development of this team fits the Every Child Matters (ECM) agenda, contributing to all five ECM outcomes.

The MPT was set up in the large secondary school where I work in 2007 and includes the education welfare officer, Sencos, learning mentors, pastoral staff and me, the family social worker. The MPT was the brainchild of the school’s principal and has full support from the senior management team.

Although the MPT could be described as discrete, it was felt that in order to extend the concept of ‘joined-up’ working it would be useful to introduce the MPT to other agencies with a view to increasing the knowledge base of the team and developing multi-agency working. Examples of developing a joined-up working ethos include:

  • inviting the Young People’s Support Unit to give a presentation to the MPT
  • working with the youth offending team and their case workers who service our school
  • working closely with children’s social care in respect of safeguarding issues.

Members of the MPT have different skills and levels of experience. It has therefore been possible and necessary to provide a skills-sharing facility: individual and group mentoring within the team encourages the development of templates of good practice within the team and across school.
Regular MPT meetings and contact with external agencies has enabled school to develop a strong caring ethos and inclusive policy.

The full MPT has only been operational for five months but aims to form the nucleus of the school organisation in that it is a conduit between the internal workings of the school and external agencies.

In the box below I present a case study of the way we have worked with one family. Names of people and places have been changed, but the real ‘Mrs Turner’ has given permission for her family’s story to be shared. The MPT cannot claim to be a panacea for all things but its presence has impacted positively on the lives of this family,  as evidenced by the level of appreciation and trust Mrs Turner has placed in us as a team and the positive relationships that the young people have with school staff.

‘Team Turner’: providing a comprehensive support system for a family

The MPT’s first connection with the Turner family was through the home-school iaison/attendance officer who had made a referral to me, the social worker, when Mrs Turner disclosed that her partner had a terminal illness and only had a matter of months to live. The family has 12 children. Three attend our school and four younger children attend the local primary.

The home-school liaison officer had already taken responsibility for getting the three children to school every day, increasing their attendance to over 95%.

This was fortuitous when Mr Turner became ill as there was immediate fluency in the support that the organisation could offer the family. It was agreed that the support for this family should be extended and that the children were likely to need more intensive support as their father’s health deteriorated.

It was therefore decided that the MPT would rise to the challenge of building ‘Team Turner’ with a view to providing a comprehensive support system for the family.

Support for the older children
Following discussion within the MPT It was agreed that the home-school liaison officer would introduce the three older siblings to me. This introduction was initially fraught. The siblings were very angry young people who did not want to participate and refused to be befriended by a stranger who also happened to be a social worker. The Turner family had previous negative experiences of social workers. The children had ‘learned’ that social workers were their natural enemies. Over time and through a lot of hard work the three older Turner children began to accept the support offered to them:

  • The home-school liaison officer continued to transport the children to school.
  • I met with each young person on a weekly basis, and more often if one of them needed or requested it. This contact became more intense as their father’s health deteriorated.
  • I maintained contact with them out of school and during school holidays. The young people were taken out on trips, allowing them to develop confidence and trust in me and giving Mrs Turner some respite.
  • The MPT ensured that the siblings all had a good friendship base and built relevant peer group support, including teaming them up with other students who had lost a parent. This facilitated mutual support and helped the Turner siblings to prepare for their father’s death and understand that young people can survive bereavement.
  • Other members of the MPT provided a similar level of care and commitment, including input from the transition mentor, two other mentors, the pastoral heads, and the school nurse.

On one occasion I took one of the Turner children out to lunch with another pupil who had suffered tragic parent bereavement six months previously. I had done a lot of bereavement work with this pupil. My intention was to unite the two students without disclosing any information about either young person. The student whose parent had died said: ‘Miss, is J seeing you because someone has died?’ I explained that I could say nothing. When we were all together the boys began to speak to each other. The bereaved boy stated: ‘I am seeing Miss because my stepfather was killed in an accident in Stormford City Centre. Are you seeing her because someone has died in your family?’ The Turner student retorted loudly: ‘No!’. However, the meeting of these two young people was particularly significant because the Turner child was able to tell the other young person that his dad was dying. Both young people have subsequently offered each other support since Mr Turner died, sharing the grief of losing a loved one a father and father figure.

Support for the younger pupils
The MPT began to build a working relationship with the primary school that the younger siblings attended. The initial contact came from the primary school’s headteacher. The children had told him and other staff members that their older sibling’s social worker was providing toys and games for the family and that a ‘man’ took their older siblings to school every day. The also told members of staff that their older siblings were being taken out every holiday.

A meeting was set up between the MPT and the primary school and this formed the beginning of joined-up working between the two schools. The meeting facilitated information sharing on how best we could support the family as a whole.

Following this meeting Mrs Turner gave the home-school liaison officer and me permission to meet with the younger children on a weekly basis.

The younger children talked a lot more about what was happening at home and this helped us to gauge the level of support needed without adding extra strain to Mrs Turner. Since the younger siblings often provided more graphic details about Mr Turner’s condition than the older siblings who understood more of what was going on, the MPT, together with the local primary school, was able to adjust strategies to help all the children cope with the impending family tragedy.

Support for Mrs Turner
Mr Turner was being cared for at home and this meant that the children were witnessing the care given to him and that they were witnessing the steady deterioration in his health. 

The children were presenting with challenging behaviour and were subject to mood swings. I visited Mrs Turner on a weekly basis and the home-school liaison officer saw Mrs Turner on a daily basis when he transported the children into school and was able to report changes to me and I informed the relevant people within school.

The pastoral year heads are an integral part of the MPT.  They were kept informed of the ‘progress’ of Mr Turner’s illness and we asked for support and patience in what was a very difficult situation. (Members of the MPT share a great deal of respect for Mrs Turner who chose to care for her husband at home despite all the pressures that such a large family placed on her.)

Wrap-around care
The MPT professionally befriended the children and provided a safety net for the three older siblings during their process of impending bereavement. In essence the young people knew that they were safe and secure, even with all that was happening to them.

‘Team Turner’ had been built over a five-month period. Every member of the MPT played a part. When Mr Turner died it was early in the morning, but the children still came to school. I took the children out that day as they were ‘shell shocked’.

Joint work was carried out with the primary school in order to initiate an action plan. This included the following actions:

  • Answering the children’s questions as to what happened to Mr Turner and why he had to contract this particular illness. Where was Mr Turner now that he had died? Being asked by the older sibling whether his father had died or were they imagining it.
  • Explaining what would happen at the funeral.
  • The learning mentor and I carrying out daily home visits.
  • The MPT liaising with the primary school daily.
  • The older siblings being taken out on local trips to provide some distraction.
  • Computer games being made available for the children to take home to provide distractions.
  • Helping the children to make a positive memory book which recorded positive events that they had been involved in, including photographs of trips out.
  • In conjunction with the local primary school, we were able to take all seven children out in the school’s minibus.

Mrs Turner was grateful as they have never been able to take all the children out at once before. We were conscious that the younger siblings did not be attend the funeral and we felt it important to give them some special time together.

Members of the MPT attended the funeral. This meant that we could physically and emotionally support the children and other members of the family. We had developed a relationship with them over a number of months and were there for them at their dad’s funeral.

All school staff were informed of Mr Turner’s death and asked for their patience. The head of school further explained in the staff briefing that the children were likely to present with challenging behaviour and needed to be treated with care.

Members of the MPT have been dealing with the challenging behaviour of the children since the death of their father and helping the children come to terms with his death. The children have experienced, nightmares, vivid dreams, sleeplessness, sadness, anger, temper tantrums, restlessness, regressive behaviour and frenetic activity.

As the family’s social worker I continue to see the children on an individual basis and have started bereavement work with each young person. I have also provided assistance to the primary school, providing materials to aid supporting the younger siblings through the process of bereavement. This will be an ongoing situation and the links forged will be strengthened. The younger siblings are likely to attend our school in due course.

It has not been plain sailing! Turbulent times are ahead for these young people and the MPT will continue offering support for them and the family as a whole.

I would recommend that all schools develop an MPT. The development of this team has had a positive impact, not just on this family but on the whole ethos of the school.

The General Care Council has announced a review of the guidance offered to social workers in respect of professional boundaries between workers and young people. This follows the publicity given to cases where social workers have been struck off the General Care Register for developing sexual relationships with service users.

In May, Community Care, the weekly magazine for social care workers, revealed that 40% of the conduct cases heard by the General Care Council – 14 out of 34 – involved inappropriate relationships. This issue was discussed at a recent General Care Council conference and it was agreed that inconsistencies in guidance across the country contributed to staff being unclear about when a relationship is inappropriate.

Jonathan Coe, chief executive of Witness, a charity that helps service users through the process of submitting official complaints about health and social care workers, said: ‘Many employers have no clear policy about where the line should be drawn.’

Legal position
It is an offence for a professional person who is in a position of trust over a person under the age of 18 to have a sexual relationship with them. The legal position on boundaries between staff and young people should always be addressed in induction and should be clearly written into codes of conduct. An argument used sometimes by a people facing such an allegation is that they thought that because the young person was over the age of consent for sexual intercourse, 16, that it was OK or at least not illegal. Another argument put forward sometimes is that they were not advised by their employer that developing a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old young person could constitute a criminal offence.

Cases of inappropriate relationships are often extremely difficult to manage as the young person involved may not see himself or herself as being exploited in anyway and may not be willing to admit that the relationship has developed to include sexual activity. The police may have a complaint from a parent but an unwilling witness, making it difficult to proceed down the criminal route. However, such cases can go down the disciplinary route and may result in dismissal.

Make sure that your school’s code of conduct addresses this issue and that it is also clearly stated in your induction pack.

We are unable to publish reader comments about individual child protection concerns on this website. If you are worried about a child please call the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000 for help and advice. Alternatively you can contact your Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) through your local council.