Complex partnership arrangements are a barrier to effective support for children and families

It has long been recognised that for the most vulnerable children, those at risk of going into care, the services that offer support must be provided in a coordinated and ‘joined-up’ way.

This is both because of overlapping problems and needs, with the most frequently cited being the ‘trigger trio’ of substance misuse, domestic abuse, and mental ill-health. But also because the underlying risk factors – poverty, deprivation and wider inequalities – cut across the silos or boundaries of policy and delivery.

Adequately responding to the needs of these children and their families therefore requires partnership working across multiple agencies.

In Wales, improving multi-agency working to support children and families has been a national policy priority at least since 2010 if not before. And yet, evidence suggests that practice falls short of the policy ambition.

We have been working with key agencies in the Cwm Taf Morgannwg region to support them to identify how they could improve their multi-agency working to support children and families. But what we have found has wider implications for the partnership landscape in Wales.

What came through strongly was that those working to support children and families care deeply about what they do, and they recognise that to provide services that respond to need they have to collaborate across organisational boundaries.

However, collaboration in the current legislative, policy and funding environment is challenging.

A Welsh Government review of strategic partnerships in 2020 concluded that there were “too many partnerships” and “too many meetings”, with apparent confusion between the distinction and overlap between the Public Service Boards (PSBs) and Regional Partnership Boards (RPBs).

Our findings echo this, and highlight that the effort to co-ordinate activities that ‘join-up’ is ‘additional’ and outside core business. It takes time and effort to collaborate, and in a period where resources are constrained this becomes increasingly difficult to sustain.

The Co-Operation Agreement between the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru includes a commitment to “keep regional partnership working under review”. Previous reviews have concluded that a nationally determined ‘solution’ to the complex landscape wouldn’t be appropriate. But our work shows that more can and should be done to address the complexity created by national policy.