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Investigating Education through Research (IETR)

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Introduction

This report reviews the article Every Child Matters written by Straker and Foster (2009) and explores the need for multi agency collaboration in the ‘children’s workforce’ within an English multi disciplinary child based setting. to ensure that the ECM outcomes are met consistently through efficient in service direction of staff at multi tiered levels. This paper argues that if the outcomes of ECM are to be met, that staff working within these areas must work collaboratively.

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It is anticipated that only by receiving appropriate and effective multi-agency training that consistency and continuity of the broad ECM aims can be achievedSome elements of this article are applicable to my UMP in that the function of ECM broad aims relate to inclusive/inclusion and inclusivity for all children and young people. Some authors represented in this article will be appropriate and significant to my research and may be used as underpinning and reinforcement to my main policy Special Educational Needs Disability Act (SENDA).

The assessment criteria used to evaluate this journal article are:

Context/significance of the research report

Has the significance of the article been explained and justified?

Methods/methodology used

Have different research methods/methodologies been used effectively?

Ethics

Has good ethical practice been facilitated prior or during the research?

Veracity /process of the research

How reliable are the findings?

Influenced by ever changing political issues, Government structures, cultural values and economic factors the authors translated policy guidelines into practical solutions using qualitative methods of research and underpinning citations from multiple theorists to evaluate the level of understanding, participation and clarity of the five Every Child Matters (ECM)(DfEs,2003) broad aims.

Every Child Matters: Change for Children (ECM) (DfES, 2003) is a legislatedinitiative set up by the Government with the intention of ensuring that every young person regardless of circumstance or environment is to be given the underpinning they require to: be healthy; stay safe; enjoy and achieve; make a positive contribution; and achieve economic wellbeing. (ibid)

Every Child Matters went on to propose a framework of desirable outcomes for children which might form the basis of common assessment systems, shared working practices, and, above all, shared goals for childhood professionals (DfES, 2003: 9). A year later, the Government legislated, in the Children Act, 2004, to: create integrated children’s services departments by combining education and child and family social care functions; Bring these new services together with health and other childhood services by establishing children’s Trusts locally; Develop a set of shared working practices across these services and increase the mutual understanding and common skills base of childhood professionals. Submitted to Manchester University(no date) Dyson et al.

This paper argues that there are flawsidentified byresearchers and theorists. Sloan (2006,12) states (t)o date there continues to be tensions and rivalries between agencies about their professional knowledge, roles and specialisms. The loss of agency specialism and the responsibilities that go with this are potentially traumatic for professionals going through the transition from single agency to multi agency work (Anning et al. 2005,72).

Straker and Foster (2009) argue that as well as training and the ECM agenda, there are issues surrounding professional identity and differentiation. This is substantiated by Macdonald, (1995,35)

It challenges, to invoke Bourdieu’s notion, the various folklores which are attached to different professional arenas and hence seeks to force open social closures which different groups of workers try to uphold as they defend their professional and personal identity (cf Macdonald,1995,35 cited in Straker and Foster 2009)

The content, research methods and findings of this article will be evaluated within this document..

Content

The evaluation criterions for this review are: Has the significance of the article been explained and justified?

Have different research methods/methodologies been used effectivelyHas good ethical practice been facilitated prior or during the researchHow reliable are the findings?

The significance of the article is to establish the level of clarity of the ECM broad aims and multi agency collaboration within children’s services departments. Every Child Matters: Change for Children (2004) identified flaws in the effective protection of children from some departments.

These concerns are further backed up by the Bercow Report [2008] which also pinpoint five major ideas – problemsthat require rectifying to enable adjustments and enhancement to develop.

The recommendationsfrom this report are gathered under these five themes:

Communication is crucial
Early identification and intervention are essential;
A continuum of services designed around the family is needed;
Joint working is critical; and
The current system is characterised by high variability and a lack of equity. (ibid)

Straker and Foster’s review clearly identifies the focus of the research and the points the paper seeks to address. The methods of research were identified as being via focus group and semi structured interviews. The mixed personnel samples were discussed and their purpose was explained. Ethical considerations were identified and appropriate protocol was evident in text. The study findings and results were clarified with recommendations for future action. The researcher concurs with the findings of ECM(2004) and the Bercow Report (2008) from reading associated literature Victoria Climbie’ Report by Lord Laming (2003)and from media coverage regarding failings of services responsible for the care for children.e.g. The case of baby P . Reform is essential to ensure no repetition of these failings.

Ethical considerations for focus groups are the same as for most other methods of social research (Homan 1991). When selecting and involving participants the researchers must ensure that full information about the purpose of contributions is given.

Implications of appropriate ethics consideration was contained in the written body of this text.

It should be stated that none of the participants were known to the researchers prior to these interviews and focus groups, and that, in order to maintain anonymity, participants are identified by letters (Cohort 1) and numbers (Cohort 2) throughout the below discussion. Straker & Foster (2009. P.124)

Honesty and keeping the contributor enlightened about the expectedoutcomes of the exercise is apparent within the paper. Good practice prohibits candidates to be pressured into communicating information, there was no implication of this in the article. Ethical considerations to be aware of in a focus group situation are the processing of confidential material and sensitivity to the feelings of each contributor.

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Clarification of how contributions will be used and shared by personnel involved in the exercise must be established prior to the activity. Confidentiality must be a focus to be communicated to the group as a priority this avoids any sensitive material being leaked. Analysts have a duty to conceal data from the participants This paper indicates that pseudonyms were used. This complies with the principles of British Educational Research [BERA]. According to Hammersley and Traianou,(2007)commonly recognized ethical principles include harm, autonomy, privacy, reciprocity and equity.

If social research is to remain of benefit to society and the groups and individuals within it, then social researchers must conduct their work responsibly and in light of the moral and legal order of the society in which they practice. They have a responsibility to maintain high scientific standards in the methods employed in the collection and analysis of data and the impartial assessment and

dissemination of findings.[SRA 2003, 13].

Literature Review

A literature review outlines the scope of the subject area, trends, themes and prior research that demonstrate awareness of work carried out on the issue/topic covered.

The article sets out to explore the need for multi agency collaboration within the ‘children’s workforce’. The aim to pilot and assess the overall understanding of policy interpretation in this area. The effectiveness of training to inform and guide these agencies to a joint, collaborative service with less overlap.

The literature review was initially wide including general texts such as ECM,(2003), Children’s Workforce Development Council (2007), Victoria Climbie’ Report by Lord Laming (2003) and Reid, (2005,13). The focus then narrowed drawing on the comments of Allnock et al.(2006,35-7), Atkinson et al.(2007) and Moran et al, (2006) then finally focussing on the topic aims.

Issues surrounding multi agency collusion are not new. The potential benefits have been discussed repeatedly by Government reports e.g. DfEE (1999) and Atkinson et al.( 2002), Atkins, Jones and Lamont (2007) Bloxham (1996) and Payne(1998) all agree that there are possible advantages of shared Practice. The review of literature by the authors suggested anticipated problems with strategy implementation resulting in inconsistencies and overlapping of roles across childcare teams to meet the broad aims of the ECM –Change for Children policy,(2204). Allnock et al. (2006,35-7) in summing up the research within this document identifies the need for more clarification of role where there is full coverage for all areas without overlap.

The focus therefore was for the implementation of strategies that addressed Government policy consistently. The literature review within this article is appropriate; references display deepness and wideness which is clear and concise. Several appropriate references were used in the introduction which gives a broad understanding of policy, statute and the need to work in collaboration to meet the desired outcomes of the ECM: Change for Children (2004). This literature review is good as it gives a wide overview of the subject, informed analysis of findings, identified variables and offered recommendationsfrom the findings.

The spotlight on content and relevance is evident. Critique and collaboration of other policy is also discussed within the paper. The authors state clearly that other theorists and participants concur that it is a ‘two way street’ where united collaboration will only take place when all Government partners and child care professionals share the same ethos, receive appropriate guidance and training and communication is effective . Straker and Foster’s, (2009) could have used the recommendations from the Bercow Report to evaluate and substantiate their own findings.

The literature review concludes by identifying that whilst training has been identified as being a potential asset it is still sporadic this may be due to resisting the opportunities, lack of vision to move with changes or basically that it is not available to certain sectors or personnel. Different sectors within this subject are identified as requiring further investigation these are those that require professional identity (clarification of role) and differentiation (what the role involves for the individual).It is also identified that through ECM professional development and training that these obstacles could be overcome.

Methods and findings

Research is defined by two categories qualitative and quantitative Qualitative research is drawn from many sources. This is primarilydue, as Lancy (1993) points out, to the fact that “… topic, theory, and methodology are usually closely interrelated in qualitative

research[p.3].” Both research methods usedin this journal article were qualitative. Qualitative methods are helpful not

only in giving rich explanations of complex phenomena, but in creating or evolving theories or conceptual bases, and in proposing hypotheses to clarify the phenomena. (Shwartz, 2000). Quantitative research examines the variables of statistical information. This type of research uses controlled systems in order to prove or disprove a theory.

Basic research is primary this type of research is information or data from a chosen subject that requires further explanation or clarification with the intention of gaining more clarification and understanding. The results are not immediate or short term. On one hand there is research which is qualitative with no scientific element in the experiential perception, it is the questioning why in the humanistic sense and the other which is more analytical and questions the relationship amid irregulars being qualitative and /or quantitative research to prove or disprove a hypothesis. However debate between researchers remains as to what is valid research.

Applied research

Applied research communicates outcomes on multiple layers. This type of research scrutinizes issues in genuine context the aim being the provision of a realistic resolution which usually comes from fundamentalstudy in this case Every Child Matters: Change for Children[ECM] [2004]. Applied research can capture why policy accomplishment is delayed or suspended. The example being the variables of policy interpretation, policy understanding and what trainees want their learning experience to be and how to implement changes in the workplace. This is clearly identified within the reviewed journal article.

Primary research consists of interviews and eye witness accounts etc. Which are taken from observational methods. Whereas secondary research could use books, Government documents etc. This method uses the findings of others for the advancement of knowledge. Secondary and primary research is effective when used together as it shows variety and veracity of information and data. The article reviewed used both methods to give weight and impact to the research thus providing depth and breadth.

The researchers aim was to build an accredited, tiered pathway of training. The nature of the research and the distinctive challenges of shared vision and leadership for the Children’s Service workforce is very diverse in its makeup. There were observed identified differences in this pilot research. Straker and Foster (2009) research set out to answer the questions on the effectiveness of ECM aims within children’s services, the implementation within different tiers and multi agency training. The chosen research methodology was focus group ; strength of this method is the ability to inform many people in a limited time a weakness of this method is cost and time constraints. Semi structured interview encourages two way dialogue but the interviewer must be articulate and confident; this can a weakness if not. The framework of the questions from both research methodologies cited above was to establish how far the rhetoric of ECM and the effect of translation over the multi faceted children and family service.

The sampling strategy was opportunistic 3 cohorts of participants from various fields working within children’s services. Opportunistic sampling allows new strands of information to be pursued allowing the length and width of research to be explored.(Journal of Mixed Method Research January 2007 1:77- 100). The piloting of research is to establish reliability and validity in this case by asking the same questions to different cohorts. It is the tool to measure the level of knowledge or participation in an subject in this instance ECM and multi agency collaboration and training.

Researchers will sometimes see if the measure yields different scores for two groups who are expected to differ in the construct. Harter and Pike (1994). Social enquiry when correctly executed can result in effective results for all, this type of research is grounded foundation to build on for the benefit an enhancement of the subject/s being studied. Social enquiry is predicated on the belief that greater access to well grounded information will serve rather than threaten the interests of society. Nonetheless, in planning all phases of an inquiry, from design to presentation of findings, social researchers should consider the likely consequences for society at large, groups and categories of persons within it, respondents or other subjects, and possible future research. [SRA 2003, 17]

Focus groups allow the collating of data from personnel at various levels within educational settings the diversity of their backgrounds and their original outlooks allow the researchers opportunity to obtain information from varying perspectives and backgrounds.

With an individual survey or interview, a respondent’s input will be limited to the ideas and issues that he/she thinks of at the time of the session. The only prompts to trigger these ideas are the specific questions on the survey and/or the comments from the interviewer. In a focus group participants benefit from the ability to build on each other’s ideas and comments, typically providing more extensive input than would otherwise be possible. In contrast to written or online surveys and phone interviews, focus groups present the possibility of observing nonverbal behavior. Wiesenfelder,(no date)

Focus groups are particularly useful when there are power differences between the participants and decision makers or professionals, when the everyday use of language and culture of particular groups is of interest, and when one wants to explore the degree of consensus on a given topic (Morgan & Kreuger, 1993). Kitzinger (1994) argues that interaction is the crucial feature of focus groups because the interaction between participants highlights their view of the world, the language they use about an issue and their values and beliefs about a situation. Interaction also enables participants to ask questions of each other, as well as to re-evaluate and reconsider their own understandings of their specific experiences.

Stavrou, (2002) states that it is useful in qualitative research as unreconstructed logicor the inflexible science of reasoning and is used to understand what is real: the quality , meaning, context or image of reality in what people actually do, not what they say they do [as in the collection of quantitative data] Stavrou, [2002].

Although having many benefits alongside other investigation methods limitations are evident. The researcher, or moderator, for example, has less control over the data produced (Morgan 1988) than in either quantitative studies or one-to-one interviewing. This gives little control leaving a predominantly open ended outcome with an unpredictable predetermined conclusion. A predicted outcome is not the aim of a focus group the diversity of the subjects within the group prohibits this. More positively, focus groups may pose some difficulty in assembly. Obtaining a representative sample may be a challenge as focus groups may not be an option for certain members of personnel. Such as people who have confidence issues, the less eloquent, those with speech delays or learning difficulties. The authors of the journal article did not indicate that the above was an issue for the participants taking part but if this were the case the reviewer would have expected the choice of research method to accommodate the diversities within the sample.

To address some of the weaknesses of a focus group supporting research strategies were implemented. Semi structured interviews are focused two way conversations that are used to give and receive information. This method is conducted with an open framework which differs from a questionnaire where questions are formulated prior to the interview starting. The research methodology of semi- structured interview commences with generalized questions or topics Key themes explored include roles and responsibilities, their perceptions of the ECM agenda, and its impact on their practice as well as their relationships with other agencies. Straker & Foster(2009. P.124)

This then forms the basis of a more specific line of questioning which does not require forward planning. In effect this gives the researcher ‘’carte blanche’’ to create most of the questions during the process giving the interviewer the opportunity to probe so allowing depth of detail or the opportunity to discuss delicate/conflicting issues 1-1’’ Wengraf (2001.P.194-5)

Semi structured consultations may be recorded by prior agreement in compliance with theethic code. This affords more accuracy if supported with notation as back up. The latter ensures that all questions are addressed and ifthere are mechanical glitches there is supporting evidence. The disadvantages of this research method are concluding the interview through visual clues e.g. closing books tidying up papers which may hamper the flow of the process thus turning the interviewee off . Wengraf, [2001. 11] as above states that ending an interview appropriately can lead to the emergence of a whole new area of information.

A further pitfall of this method is that the transcribing and analysis of data can prove time consuming and the opportunity to get side tracked with anecdotes and generally inappropriate information is a possibility. In any research thefirst questions that you should ask are: Has this been done beforeDoes these data already existIf so, is there value-added in doing this againRand, [2009, 16] Whilst these methods offer breadth and depth my opinion is that it would be easy to keep to the structure as other information may come up that could side track the research event.

The principle of the research was the exploration of need for multi agency collaboration within children’s services. The research focused on three sets of personnel working within different branches of the children’s care framework, ethical considerations were followed and informed consent was documented as being obtained. The sample used was diverse in its make up ranging from junior tosenior management levels. The desirable model of practice was taken from the ECM, (2004) shared goals. The article included semi structured interviews and focus groups to establish the levels of understanding and participation within their specialism. The methods chosen proved to be limited and the sample size although diverse in makeup was small which may hamper the overall picture of awareness in this field of enquiry.

Data interpretation and analysis

The authors of this journal article identified that whilst there was marked amountof similarities in opinionwithin the groups any disparity in opinions was thought to be as a result of the lack of clarity of ECM outcomes and involvement therein, this is underpinned by relevant references from Annig et al ; Sloan( 2006) .The researchers in this study identified that participant’s roles and responsibilities varied considerably and this determined the responses of the individual groups. The article therefore implies that other tiers would benefit from the knowledge and understanding of their peers roles within the sector.

Multi-channel collusion: Happens at dissimilar tiers: information transmitted to personnel from different disciplines; co-operation and joint working on a case-by-case basis; co-ordination and formalised joint working; coalition at the level of joint structures; and integration of organisations merging to create a new identity Horwath and Morrison, [2007]. The findings of the research agrees with Horwath and Morrison, [2007]. The diversity of the groups and the differing tiers gave depth and breadth of insight into the levels of participation and understanding of the ECM framework.

The study ranged from a wholly positive attitude from cohort one to cohort two, who whilst still positive did feel confident in highlighting negative and problem areas. Cohort three displayed a an eclectic mix of groups one and two. It was interesting to viewthe responses of the individual groups even though each sample group was mixed in level academically and professionally the responses in group 1 and 2 were on the whole identified as being positive. Disparities were identified in group 2 due to gaps [they felt] in understanding of the ECM framework for some employees this was proving problematic. The dynamics in group 3 was a mixture of positive and negative responses/comments in line with the other two groups sampled. The same comments from individuals during the tasks was encouraging, the mention of shared values, the understanding of other professional roles and a feeling of belonging as a result of this training exercise was a positive step .

Conclusion

The research concluded that key issues that emerged were communication, leadership and consistency in practice. Communication is considered to be of paramount importance in promoting the awareness of knowledge and the clarification of the work that other agencies do. Leadership was defined as being a multi tiered facet which has the ability to empower, promote a shared vision and purpose. This was acknowledged as a being a strength in shared collaboration only when colleagues were willing to change and adapt practiceto new agendas. Whilst the participants in the focus group acknowledge the needs of effective communication, good leadership in order to work collaboratively interpretation of the outcomes of ECM and overlap of role still appears to be problematic areas. Problem areas were also identified, these included lack of consistency in practice, the inability for some employees to move forward with new ideas and policy directives, lack of clarity in job description and poor perception. These findings are reasonably founded as other researchers early in the article indicate similar findings and are broadly reiterated by others participating in this research. These findings are presented in the form of statements that identify the participant by pseudonym but highlight the accurate job title.

Many sources of appropriate documentation were used to support this journal article. Theory is used to embed and underpin throughout the article. The literature used created a chronological picture of policy and the multi strand approach to addressing the issue of lack of clarity and cooperation within children’s services. The description of research participants and levels was appropriate to enable the reader to establish the reasoning behind the research that was to be identified. Ethics guidelines were documented as being followed appropriately. Some reinforcement of ethical paperwork in the appendices would have been useful. Policy and practice mis- match is identified as an ongoing concern across the children’s services sector. This exercise has identified the focal characteristics of focus group and semi structured interviews research methodology, with emphasis being on the interaction and oscillation of participants which only qualitative methods of research can facilitate. Participants who do engage in focus groups often obtain value from the experience but realistic deliberation of time consuming focus group situations from the researchers point of view could be daunting. Lack of chance to complete the required elements involved within the allotted constraints can be a deterrent.

The process of these types of research can be more collaborative than other forms of study and can be an empowering process for participants and an exciting challenge for social researchers wanting to gain a different perspective on their field of interest. (Harrell and Bradley 2009 cited in Rand, 2009) The initial questions identified earlier in this article have been answered and reasoning behind the findings has been discussed. The theory was used to substantiate the outcomes from the article.

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