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Multi-agency working

Last updated: 17 May 2023

Multi-agency working is key to effective safeguarding and child protection (Sidebotham et al, 2016).

Children and their families will access a range of services throughout a child's life. It's vital that practitioners work together to gain a full overview of a child's situation and have a co-ordinated approach to support.

Case reviews in each of the UK nations emphasise the importance of information sharing and collaboration between agencies so that professionals can fully understand any risks a child may be exposed to and take appropriate action to keep them safe.

We’ve pulled together learning for best practice about multi-agency working from analyses of case reviews across the UK and Ofsted’s analysis of joint targeted area inspection (JTAI) reports in England. See the references tab for details of these reports.

Frontline practitioners

Frontline practitioners

Everyone who works with children has a responsibility to share any information that has a bearing on a child's welfare as early as possible.

Practitioners working in adults' services should also share any information that has an impact on the wellbeing of a child - for example information about parents' capacity to provide safe and loving care.

Follow your organisation's child protection policies and procedures, which should set out how to share information and who with.

> Find out more about information sharing

Improving communication

When working in a busy environment, it's important to communicate with others effectively. This is particularly important if you are sharing information that affects a child's wellbeing.

Be clear about what you are sharing and why
For example, are you making a child protection referral which needs to be acted up on or are you letting people know for information only?

Follow up with written documentation
All verbal and face-to-face communication should be followed up with clear and comprehensive written documentation.

Use specific language and describe risk and vulnerability in detail
Different teams and agencies may use different terminology, so ensure you use clear language. If there is a form for information sharing, use it - it will help other people understand what information you are sharing or requesting and why.

Acknowledge information that's been shared with you
If possible, you should also let them know what's happened as a result of the information they've shared. When people feel their contribution is valued, they are more likely to communicate in future.

Team work

If you're working in a multi-disciplinary or multi-agency team, make sure you understand your and everyone else's role. Discuss how you will work together to support a child or family.

Always prioritise children's needs. Think about other teams working with a child and whether there is any information you can share that will help them provide support. It's particularly important to have a comprehensive handover whenever a child starts to work with a new practitioner or a different team.

Parents should receive the same messages from practitioners in different agencies. If several agencies are working with a family it might be helpful to identify a trusted key individual who will liaise with parents.

Support and challenge

It's vital for practitioners to build trusting working relationships with each other. Members of a multi-agency team should feel equally respected and listened to.

However, you should always discuss and explore any differences in opinion. This will help you gain a greater understanding of a child's situation and make informed decisions about the appropriate action to take.

If you have any concerns about the action being taken to protect a child, you must raise these following your organisational procedures.

Your organisation should provide you with regular and ongoing training and supervision so that you can reflect on and improve your practice.

For further help

If your organisation doesn't have a clear safeguarding procedure or you're not comfortable with how your organisation has responded to your report, contact the Whistleblowing Advice Line to discuss your concerns.

> Find out about the Whistleblowing Advice Line on the NSPCC website

If you need any advice or reassurance, our Helpline is here to help. Contact the Helpline on 0808 800 5000 or by emailing to talk to one of our child protection specialists.

> Find out more about how the NSPCC Helpline can support you


Strategic leads

Strategic leads

Commissioners and strategic leaders must work together to achieve the best outcomes for the children they support. Analysing multi-agency information can

  • identify the local need for services
  • give an understanding of what's happening in frontline practice
  • decide what action to take to improve frontline services
  • set well-informed objectives and priorities.

When setting targets, make sure there are strong links between your priorities and those of other decision-making bodies. Make sure your aims and objectives are clear and that everyone in your organisation knows what they are.

Identify key people who need to be able to connect with each other to deliver effective multi-agency working at a strategic level and ensure they have regular opportunities to keep in touch.

Improving communication

Good communication is central to effective multi-agency working. Put processes in place to make it as easy as possible for frontline practitioners to work together and build trusting relationships.

Provide clear pathways for inter-agency communication
Different organisations have a range of structures so it's helpful to establish clear pathways for communication. Make sure everyone in your organisation is aware of them.

Build in flexibility for urgent child protection cases
For example when it's necessary to share concerns over the phone rather than making a written referral.

Include processes for sharing information at times of change
For example when a child returns home from care, comes off a child protection plan or register or makes the transition into adult care services.

Establish a clear language around risk and vulnerability factors
Agencies often use slightly different terminology and this can be confusing. In extreme circumstances it can result in levels of risk being misunderstood and action not being taken to protect a child. To avoid this, make sure you establish a clear language around risk and vulnerability factors.

Ensure your child protection training covers description of risk
Make sure your child protection training teaches practitioners how to describe risk as well as recognising and responding to it.

Use pro-formas to make information clearer
Consider using pro-formas to make the process of information sharing clearer and easier.

Continuous improvement

Monitor the impact of multi-agency work on children in your local area and work with other agencies to audit, evaluate and improve practice.

For example, you could use our Harmful sexual behaviour (HSB) framework and audit tool to assess and improve your local area response to HSB.

Ensure frontline practitioners have opportunities to reflect on their practice through regular and ongoing supervision, both individually and as an inter-disciplinary group.

Provide opportunities for practitioners to come together and learn from each other, such as practitioner forums.

Set out clear processes for practitioners to follow if they need to escalate any concerns about multi-agency practice. If concerns are raised, make sure you investigate fully and take appropriate action to improve practice.

References and resources

References and resources

Care Inspectorate (2016) Learning from significant case reviews in Scotland: a retrospective review of relevant reports completed in the period between 1 April 2012 and 31 March 2015. Dundee: Care Inspectorate.

Flood, S. et al (2016a) Triennial analysis of serious case reviews (2011-2014): practice briefing for education practitioners. Totnes: Research in Practice.

Flood, S. et al (2016b) Triennial analysis of serious case reviews (2011-2014): practice briefing for health visitors. Totnes: Research in Practice.

Flood, S. et al (2016c) Triennial analysis of serious case reviews (2011-2014): practice briefing for local safeguarding children boards. Totnes: Research in Practice.

Flood, S. et al (2016d) Triennial analysis of serious case reviews (2011-2014): practice briefing for the police and criminal justice agencies. Totnes: Research in Practice.

Flood, S. et al (2016e) Triennial analysis of serious case reviews (2011-2014): practice briefing for social workers and family support workers. Totnes: Research in Practice.

NSPCC/SCIE (2016) Learning into Practice: inter-professional communication and decision making – practice issues identified in 38 serious case reviews. London: NSPCC/SCIE.

Ofsted (2018) Social care commentary: multi-agency safeguarding arrangements. [Accessed 18/12/18].

Ofsted et al (2016) Time to listen − a joined up response to child sexual exploitation and missing children (PDF). London: Ofsted.

Ofsted et al (2017a) Growing up neglected: a multi-agency response to older children (PDF). London: Ofsted.

Ofsted et al (2017b) The multi-agency response to children living with domestic abuse: prevent, protect and repair (PDF). London: Ofsted.

Ofsted et al (2018) Protecting children from criminal exploitation, human trafficking and modern slavery: an addendum (PDF). London: Ofsted.

Sidebotham, P. et al (2016) Pathways to harm, pathways to protection: a triennial analysis of serious case reviews 2011 to 2014: final report. London: Department for Education (DfE).

Related documents

> Read our practice briefings on inter-professional communication and decision making

> Use our Harmful sexual behaviour (HSB) framework to improve multi-agency responses to HSB

> Look at our series of thematic briefings on the learning from case reviews

Further reading

For further reading about multi-agency working, search the NSPCC Library catalogue using the keywords "interagency cooperation", "professional collaboration", "information sharing".

> Find out more about the Library and Information Service