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Working closely with social workers - A police perspective

There are numerous models of multi-agency working being developed and implemented across the country, with an aim to work more effectively with children, young people and vulnerable adults. It’s an approach that has been encouraged and praised by the social work profession. Here, we catch up with Detective Inspector Peters from Suffolk Police, who manages the police’s involvement in the MASH. He talks about its set up and explains how this ever-evolving partnership represents value for money whilst delivering tangible results across the county.

“Initially, referrals for vulnerable adults and child protection were managed in three Safeguarding Units across the county, but this system had recognised flaws; particularly the time spent tracking down the relative partner agencies to discuss cases,” said DI Peters. “In response to this disjointed set-up, the Central Referral and Tasking Unit was created in 2008, and this control centre has gradually morphed into the current MASH model that is in operation today.”

Dramatically reduced risk

So how does the Suffolk MASH system work? On receipt of referrals, Suffolk’s local authority flags up the information required to manage the risk to partner agencies, via the ‘Guardian ICT system’. The local authority collates the information and decides whether a ‘Strategy Threshold Decision’ is required; if it is, then police, health, children and young people’s services and adult services officers meet to discuss the information collected. “This process has been a big breakthrough for Suffolk Police as we now come to the decision-making table better prepared and informed, which means more in-depth and accurate decisions can be made in respect of children, adults and families. The process isn’t quicker than its predecessor, it is more labour intensive for us, but when measured against the quality of the information shared, it is assessed that the risk will, overall, be dramatically reduced; and that’s what we’re here for,” explained DI Peters.

The MASH that operates from Landmark House in Ipswich has been in development for two years, but has been running in its current state since August 2014, following the introduction of the Guardian ICT System. Police involvement is managed by DI Peters and a Detective Sergeant, with five dedicated decision makers (of whom two are detectives, two are retired former detectives and one is a civilian member of staff), eight researchers, who support the decision-makers and feed information into the Guardian System, and a data administrator whose primary function is to co-ordinate missing person data, manage Clare’s and Sarah’s Law disclosure requests and support the MASH DS. The decisions for disclosures through Clare’s and Sarah’s Laws are made in the MASH based on detailed research packages by the team’s researchers.

An ever-evolving service

The MASH is currently made up of representatives from the Police, Health services, the county council’s social care access teams, children and young people services, and safeguarding representatives, who will shortly be joined by an education representative. A dedicated professional consultation line is also to be introduced, allowing professionals to call in to seek advice on whether there is a need to refer in specific cases. This consultation line should ultimately reduce demand and will be of significant benefit to other agencies such as schools, child care providers and GPs.

The MASH has an Information Sharing Protocol to assist with decision-making, and applies strict guidelines to any subsequent dissemination outside of the MASH, which is assessed against need. The priority is the protection of the vulnerable children and adults for whom the MASH model was designed, and a visit to the Suffolk MASH reveals a large dedicated team, working together, with a common aim. DI Peters summed up: “The benefits from a police perspective include us being more confident that decisions are made in a more informed and structured way; leading to reduced risk to victims and ultimately allowing us to offer better support. Whilst the MASH initiative here per se is relatively young, it works. As an ever-evolving, work in progress, its service to the public will continue to improve.”

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