Joined-up delivery, involving both public and voluntary organisations, is a central tenet of the Government's aim to make services more efficient and effective. But, says the study led by Professor Angela Anning, of Leeds University, until now the way this major shift in policy is being conceptualised and implemented has scarcely been examined.
The research found confusion, for instance, between the concepts of multi-disciplinary and multi-agency work. And it identifies lack of training in effective management of multi-agency teams and managing change as two key issues which must be addressed.
Researchers investigated five multi-agency teams operating in children's services in England, covering youth crime, mental health, special needs provision for under-fives, neuro-rehabilitation and assessment of child development. Agencies and specialists involved included police, court workers, psychologists, social services, probationary, voluntary sector, education and health professionals.
The study found that heavy demands are made on the professionals involved in implementing multi-agency teamwork in terms of their need to rethink their roles and switch to different kinds of activities and working practices.
A main focus of this new way of working is the sharing with others of information perhaps previously restricted to those in a particular specialist field, with an expert understanding of its language and practices.
Attempting to share information more widely may create anxiety and conflict and affect the way teams work together - setting for instance, medical versus social work; education versus care.