Key Working : Whose Job Is It Anyway?

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?"

Confused by Key working?You're not alone...
Confused by Key working?
You're not alone...

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?


Debs Aspland
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  1. Stacey Jones

    I think the idea of a key worker in the early stages of the process for parents could be very helpful. It can be daunting and time consuming to liaise with a number of people who inevitably are only available at certain times. Many parents work and are time limited during the day so one point of coordination an contact is good. That along with regular review meetings that include the main people involved would aid the process. Just because there is a key worker does not preclude contact with others involved. Once children settle and everyone is more familiar, this role may be less crucial for one person to hold.

    1. Another great thought provoking article by SNJ – Due to the local schools being unable/unsuitable to attend to my sons additional needs of PDA/ASD, he is in a weekly residential setting in another county. Every Thursday evening his Key-worker phones me to report how his week has been. I agree with you Stacey that speaking to the same person regularly on the phone is very helpful, because the key worker has formed a close relationship with my son and I feel I am getting first hand information from someone who cares for him. Having said that, I agree with Debs when she highlighted the difficulties that may occur when his key worker is away sick or on holiday. I must also mention about my concerns regarding the cross-over from day time support staff to the evening staff, daytime incidents must be fully discussed. Often the key worker has given sweeping statements such as; “I don’t know what happened at lunch time today, but I heard your son had to be restrained”. This type of reporting is simply not good enough. Other members of staff/carers have taken a very long time to be fully informed about my son, his anxieties and hence his aggressive outbursts, some have learnt on-the-job! Certainly a Key working team offering understanding, support across the board, who are fully SEN trained, would be a dream come true, especially when handing over your child on a Monday to Friday basis. Although I can speak to my son every evening by telephone, it can be difficult due to his limited dialogue, which is considerably reduced when his anxieties are running high, so it can be very difficult to gauge how his day has been. We have a home to school log book, however this repeatedly goes missing.
      Good communication between the education setting and the home front is the KEY to maintaining accurate up-to-date information, which helps with consistency and acknowledges the childs environments as a whole, all essential in order to know how to work with the childs strengths to better understand the childs needs and offer the right kind of support.

      1. Thanks for taking the time to comment, I enjoyed reading your views and your experiences.

        I agree with Stacey that at the beginning it would be (and is) really helpful. I also know some parents who wouldn’t want that either but wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had a choice and confidence that either option would work for our child.

  2. Our little lad has major health, education and social care needs and a key worker is essential. However, although we have been asking for over 2 years and everyone without exception agrees it is essential none of the services want to give any of their employees the time to do it or fund anyone else to do it. Social care say it should be the SENCO at the school but she hasn’t the time because she has many pupils with SEN to deal with and is only part time and she doesn’t have a medical background. Education say it should be the school nurse but neither we nor the school have ever met the school nurse and we know she is overworked already. The medical professionals say it should be the child’s social worker but they say that he is not disabled by having half a heart, adhd and an attachment disorder and so they can only come to a meeting every 6 months. The SENDIST panel suggested a Community Paediatrician who would love to do it but isn’t allowed as if she did it for us she would set a precedent and need to do it for everyone and she hasn’t the time. And so the buck passing goes on. We have found the perfect person in our ex-NHS health visitor who has the skills, the time and the motivation but how do we fund her? Do we give up 3 hours of our precious respite to pay her from direct payments? We failed to get it quantified and specified in his current Statement of SEN but know that is our case it is not just a good idea it is essential. Any ideas gratefully received…

    1. Janet, thanks for this comment. It is a similar story we hear from several parents. Having a keyworker named in Aspirational Green Papers without providing funding for such a role makes life difficult for everyone involved. Parents have expectations raised, LA’s are having to manage budget cuts so where do they find the funding?

      Like you say, any suggestions gratefully received.

  3. Nicky Goode

    I think having a key worker is a great idea in theory. There is not enough ‘joined up thinking’ between agencies and it can be incredibly stressfull having to go over the same issues again and again with different people. My son has been permanently excluded from school and we are desperately trying to find him another one, but we keep coming up against a lot of bureaucracy and ‘buck passing’ with no one agency willing to accept responsibility for his referral in case they have to pay the fees etc! My husband works 60 hour + weeks and on top of that has to try and fit in emails/phone calls etc with relevant people. I also do my bit from home, but as my son is with me all the time, I find it very difficult to talk to people on the phone when he can hear or he doesn’t want to cooperate. A key worker would be able to help with this by ‘ensuring delivery of an interagency care plan’ as described in the definition above. As Stacey points out, once the child is more settled, the role can become less crucial, but initially it would be great to have a key worker to coordinate things and liaise with the family.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment. I agree that there are times when a dedicated key worker would be essential to a family. I think having a choice would be great so that families do not have to fit into a box.

      Sorry to hear about your current situation, please feel free to email SNJ via our contact page if we can help in any way.

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