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Exploring the evidence base for Integrated Children's Services

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1. Introduction

Integrating public services has been a key policy priority since the election of the Labour Government in 1997 (Integrated Care Network 2004; Cameron & Lart 2003; Johnson, Wistow, Rockwell and Hardy 2003). There has been a wealth of initiatives aimed at encouraging more collaboration between different agencies and professionals, improving joint working and achieving more effective partnership working to deliver more seamless, joined-up services for the public. Often such drives to improve integration between services have arisen in response to the wide ranging needs of a particular client group, for instance, people with learning disabilities, older people needing residential care, vulnerable young children or young offenders (Sloper 2004). Working within traditional professional silos, it is reasoned, is unable to deliver the most appropriate response to the variety of needs that people often require. There have also been instances where a failure to adequately join up practice and policy has been identified as contributing to children "falling through the net" with tragic consequences (Percy-Smith 2005, Laming Inquiry 2003, O'Brien, Hammond and McKinnon 2003). Better and more efficient services for the user as well as responding to the public's call for more co-ordinated services is expected from improving communication and sharing information and assessment processes between the different agencies (Sloper 2004). In an audit of multi-agency activity for the Local Government Association, the aims for such initiatives centred around three areas; responding to the needs of a specific target group; responding to the government's agenda to improve joined up working and providing a more effective service (Atkinson, Wilkin and Stott 2001).

This review was undertaken to contribute to consideration of evidence requirements for integrated community schooling ( ICS) policy. The rationale of ICS policy, introduced by the Scottish Office, was that in order to improve the educational outcomes for children and therefore improve their life chances and tackle the opportunity gap, a more holistic approach to their needs was required (Scottish Office 1998). Social, emotional and health problems should be addressed if children are to achieve and schools are to accomplish their objectives (Anderson-Butcher and Ashton 2004). Schools cannot achieve this alone and working in partnership with other agencies was a key characteristic of the new community school approach, as it was then termed.

Much has been learned through the experience of integrated community schools. Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education ( HMIe) reported recently that development was patchy and while some good practice was emerging on joint working between schools and other agencies, suggested that the vision of ICS was refocused in light of what had taken place to date ( HMIe 2004). The report identified leadership as a key factor for success and commented that in many instances, ICS was being seen as an "add-on" to the business of the school rather than an overarching framework for the delivery of education and other children's services.

As part of work undertaken to refocus ICS policy within the wider context of integrated children's services, a group comprising academics, policy makers and practitioners was set up to consider the evidence requirements for the policy. It was concluded from an initial meeting of this group that further evaluation of ICS policy as a distinct initiative would not be appropriate given the wider context of integrated children's services. This paper therefore intends to:

1. consider existing relevant evidence on integrating services and implications for policy development

2. highlight issues for the development of a more robust evidence base as the range of integrated children's services policies are established