When the SEND Green Paper was launched in March 2011, the Department for Education said they would “test the role of key workers”.
Several parents approached our parent-carer forum in Kent asking “What is a key-worker”, “Can we choose the key-worker if we are involved?” and "Can a key worker be employed by the Local Authority and be truly independent?"
Eighteen months later, parents are still asking the same questions and practitioners are, understandably, asking “Is this another task for me on top of my existing, increased, workload?”
Key workers are not mentioned in the draft legislation (although we are assured that the details will be in the Regulations and Code of Practice). However, Care Co-ordination Network UK (CCNUK) has been working on clarifying the definition.
"A key worker is both the source of support for disabled children and young people and their families and a link by which other services are accessed and used effectively. Key workers have responsibility for working together with the family and with professionals from services and for ensuring delivery of an interagency care plan for the child and the family." (CCNUK, 2004)
Parents have also asked us, “Is a key worker the same as key-working? I keep hearing the two phrases, "Are they the same thing?” CCNUK also helpfully provide a very clear definition of this (and no, just to make the whole reform easier for us all to understand, they are not exactly the same thing).
"Key working…. is a service, involving two or more agencies, that provides disabled children and young people and their families with a system whereby services from different agencies are coordinated. It encompasses individual tailoring of services based on assessment of need, interagency collaboration at strategic and practice levels, and a named key worker for the child and family.” (CCNUK, 2004)
So key working, in basic terms, means that everyone involved with the child will speak to each other and will be working with you and your child (or young person) towards the same goal; they will not be duplicating work and Parent (a) and Practitioners (b), (c) and (d) will all understand what the plan is and why.
Now, as a parent, this “key working” idea sounds good to me. Call me optimistic but it sounds a bit like “common sense”, a signpost we seem to miss in this Jungle.
However, in order for this to be possible, the people who hold the purse strings (aka the “budget” or “available resources”) need to put policies and practices into place.
Early Support offer free capacity building training (for parents and practitioners) on key working, working in partnership, so cost to Local Authorities to train their staff shouldn't be an issue.
If we got this key working concept right; if key working became everyone’s responsibility in the same way that safeguarding is, then would families still want a named key worker? Would it be preferable to just be able to speak to any of the practitioners involved with your child and know that because they speak to each other, the information would be passed on and feedback given if you needed it. Practitioners get sick, have holidays and, sometimes, are just not able to speak when you have that ten minute slot so wouldn’t it be easier if you could speak to a number of key working practitioners rather than have to rely on one named key worker?
Would practitioners prefer to work in this way and what are the barriers? What support and practices do they need in place?
What are your views? What experiences have you had that could have been improved with the provision of a key worker or key working practitioners? Is a key worker what parents want or do we want merely want key working staff?