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Vulnerable individual or group and multi-Agency work?


There are certain vulnerable groups or individuals, for whose protection and welfare, a multi-Agency team working towards the same objective, that is, the protection of the vulnerable group is required. When such external agencies are involved together with the same group or individual, it is of paramount interest for the vulnerable group as well as the external agencies that the multi-Agency team is able to work together. As these are different external agencies, there are possibilities that conflicts may arise within the team. Communication between the different agencies may also be an issue. At such times, certain management approaches of team building and team dynamics may be applied in order to enable the multi-agencies to work together effectively and efficiently.

In this essay, the vulnerable group chosen for discussion is vulnerable children. There are a number of multi-Agency projects that are established to secure the welfare of the target vulnerable groups of children. That children are vulnerable was even brought to the fore by the Victoria Climbié Inquiry (Department of Health, 2003). As a result of the report by Lord Laming into the inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbié, the Children Act 2004 was enacted and this placed a duty on all Children’s Services Authorities to promote co-operation between the key partners that are involved in children services. The report also emphasised on the need for a stronger assessment and information base and clearer structures for co-ordinating and integrating the work of different professionals (Department of Health, 2003).

Clearly, there are group dynamics at function within children services, which provides both the means for cohesion as well as disruption in the team work by individual service providers. Consequently, there is a need for a certain mindset and new approaches towards multi-Agency work that does not restrict itself to the traditional boundaries (Wildridge, et al., 2004). Multi-Agency work with respect to vulnerable children that are involved in a project of this kind include: Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs) should monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of training, including multi-agency training; local authority children’s social care; police; social workers; NHS organisations; Youth Offending Teams; and the NSPCC. The involvement of the different agencies usually depends on the facts and many times they are all mobilised for a particular situation.

Group dynamics as a term was first popularised by Kurt Lewin. The term group dynamics refers to cohesive and disruptive forces, which the group or team may find aiding the attainment of group objectives or impeding the attainment of such group objectives (Tripathi & Reddy, 2008, p. 172). Group dynamics are impacted by many factors, some of which are unavoidable. These factors may be unavoidable because the individual nature of the team members is something that they come into the team with. The leaders and their qualities also determine the group dynamics. The team structure, how the team members communicate with each other and whether this communication is effective, ego and prestige related issues, are all relevant to making group dynamics. Also important to note is that Individuals within a group may react to situations in ways in which they would not have reacted had they been acting individually (Werner & DeSimone, 2011).

In multi-Agency work with relation to vulnerable children, such group dynamics as discussed above may arise (Walker & Donaldson, 2010). In the recent years, with the increasing government interest and initiative on children as a vulnerable group, there have been a number of initiatives that are multi-Agency in nature. These initiatives have demonstrated tensions in the way of implementing a new integrative policy framework, which requires multi-Agency work and is different from the individual services of external agencies that were used earlier (Walker & Donaldson, 2010).

The multi-Agency work for the benefit of vulnerable groups, such as children from poor and needy families face certain challenges. A simple thing like attending a multi-Agency level meeting may become challenging. It is admittedly not easy to establish a model of partnership that is effective. However, studies show that where such integrated working has been successfully implemented, due credit is deserved by “leadership skills of project managers, organisational structures that facilitated co- working, a shared understanding of new programmes, and staff who were competent to deliver new interventions” (Walker & Donaldson, 2010, p. ix).

Some of the challenges that multi-Agency work in dealing with vulnerable groups like children are enhanced pressure in new roles, exacerbated by blurred lines of accountability, dual accountability to their own agency as well as the initiative project manager, a clear ‘pecking order’ among the various professions and a difficulty achieving an equal voice in multi-agency meetings as a result of the apparent ‘pecking order’. Sometimes the lack of training in the new integrated practices may also impede the functioning of the different agencies as one team (Walker, et al., 2010).

Identifying vulnerability is a key issue in such initiatives and keeping in mind that some children may be more vulnerable than the others, some of the indicators of vulnerability are: homelessness, truant behaviour, emotional problems, broken families and poor family background (Walker & Donaldson, 2010). However, once identified, and upon the forming of the new teams for the purpose of targeting the vulnerabilities and working towards the benefit of the vulnerable group, the multi-Agencies team may go through the stages of team building.

As per Tuckman’s Teamwork theory a team once formed, moves from being an assortment of individuals to a cohesive unit. The entire process of this team building is seen in the ‘Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing and Adjourning’ of the team after which, it emerges as a cohesive and goal-oriented unit (Tuckman’s Team Development Model, n.d.). Thus, the five stages of group development from an assortment of individuals to a unit are: forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning (O’Connell & Cuthbertson, 2009, p. 21).

In the first ‘forming’ stage, which comes just after the team has been formally created, the members of the group are still guarded with each other, and they are beginning to form group dynamics (Tuckman, 1965). For the multi-level agencies, this stage must mean that members of different agencies are now working as a team, which is newly formed and so their group dynamics have not matured as yet. This beginning phase is challenging.

In the storming phase, the primary tension is caused by the stress of identifying the leadership roles and who will fill them (O’Connell & Cuthbertson, 2009, p. 22). For multi-Agency partners this can be particularly difficult as the members of different agencies may not be comfortable leadership positions to those who are from other agencies.

The norming stage is characterised by normalisation of relations between group members. This stage may see the members of the different multi-Agencies begin to feel like one group. It may also be confusing because they are still working in their agencies so that they sometimes have dual accountability. One to their own agency and the other to the team formed for the welfare of members of vulnerable group.

The performing stage comes after the normalisation of relations, however, this stage comes with its one challenges as this is the stage when the most of work is completed and there may be some communication challenges for multi-Agency members in this stage (Tuckman, 1965).

The final adjourning stage is the culmination of the activities and the end of the project. In multi-Agency work, the nature of the work being such, that is, welfare of the vulnerable groups, that the adjourning stage may actually come very late as the work can be long drawn and complex in nature.

The ultimate objective of the multi-Agency work for vulnerable group is that there are better outcomes for the vulnerable group if such work is shared by a number of agencies. There are a number of positives of such a team exercise. Some of these objectives are: an increase in the uptake of the use of early help assessments, the Common Assessment Framework (CAF), a reduction in repeat referrals and cases and better Information sharing across partners, all of which ultimately benefit the target vulnerable group (Home Office, 2003). Regard may also be had to the Bureaucratic management theory of Max Weber, which contains two essential elements, which are, structuring an organization into a hierarchy; and having clearly defined rules (Merz, 2011). It is easy to achieve within one agency, but challenging in the context of multi-Agency venture, because the members of such a team are habituated to pay respect to their own superiors and work within traditionally defined boundaries of agency. However, the use of team building efforts and understanding group dynamism can be helpful in achieving a team consensus and ability to achieve the objectives of the team as a singe unit. The leader can help the process by establishing the rules for individual contribution, allocate talent and initiative based roles, reinstate the goals, and establish the procedures for communication in the norming stage, which is where the most normalization of group relations are achieved (Mittal, 2015, p. 193).

To conclude this essay, it is seen that there are a number of key government initiatives that are focused on achieving welfare of vulnerable children and that the distinct feature of such initiatives is that they are multi-Agency in nature. Group dynamics play an important role in bringing cohesive and disruptive forces into the group. These may be avoided by having regard to some management theories, such as Tuckman’s theory, which help group achieve cohesive manner of functioning.


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