Supporting those who need it most in Falkirk

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Looking after the most vulnerable members of society in the best way they can is the aim of a unique project in Larbert.

Police officers are now sharing offices with health professionals, social workers and education staff to provide an effective and immediate response when people of all ages across Forth Valley are at risk.

The Multi-Agency Assess-ment Screening Hub (MAASH) is a complicated name for a simple initiative – to provide quick and efficient protection before problems escalate.

Assistant Chief Constable Allan Moffat has spent the last 18 months co-ordinating Central Scotland Police’s involvement with their partners from Falkirk, Stirling and Clackmannanshire Councils, as well as NHS Forth Valley, to set up the hub within the new police office in Larbert.

Although they all worked together previously, having the person they need to discuss cases with to provide that speedy assistance across the desk, has proved a huge boon for all involved.

The ACC said everyone in public protection wanted the best possible service for those most vulnerable.

He added: ‘‘I believe we are delivering that vision. We are absolutely committed to protecting the most vulnerable people in our communities and the co-location of staff and the effective sharing of information ensures we are best placed to make these assessments and respond accordingly.”

The MAASH looks after the interests of babies before they are even born if there are concerns they may be at risk, right up to the oldest members of society. Issues addressed include child protection, domestic abuse, young runaways, on-line offending, as well as adult support and protection, and the management of sex offenders.

Detective Chief Inspector Catriona Paton, who heads the force’s public protection unit, said: “The introduction of the MAASH is an important element of the wider Getting It Right for Every Child programme within Forth Valley which seeks to improve services and outcomes for children and young people.

“Enhanced early identification, assessment and risk management through the MAASH is intended to reduce unnecessary escalation, result in quicker decisions being made about those who are potentially at risk, based on a more complete understanding of each individual case.”

She added that everyone was better informed and able to deal with any concerns relating to public protection issues which had resulted in an improved and stronger working relationship between partners, referrals being dealt with timeously, consistently and appropriately, and fewer children ending up in the system.

DCI Paton said: “Being based in the same building and sitting next to each other has significantly enhanced information sharing processes so that public protection matters are dealt with more quickly and effectively.

“This collaborative approach ensures staff are better placed to make full informed decisions in respect of concerns raised regarding children and young people, and any action, intervention and protection is carried out as early and effectively as possible.”

Those based in the MAASH are the police’s public protection unit, NHS Forth Valley’s child protection team and Stirling and Clackmannanshire social work and education staff.

Although Falkirk Council does not have staff based in the hub, the ACC gave an assurance it was “very much a part of what we do”. He added: “We work very closely with Falkirk and although at the moment the way they work means they are not in the building, we still have close communication links.”

One of those involved in the MAASH is Maureen Berry, NHS Forth Valley’s nurse consultant, who said: “This is a different way of working which makes communication much more effective as we can make more informed decisions.

“Previously you would have spent time identifying the right person to talk to but now you can deal with issues much quicker.”

Julie Main, child protection team manager, said the partnership working was encouraging staff “to go that extra mile”.

While Helen Munro, education support officer, said it allowed them to “colour in” the whole picture, not just see things in black and white.

CDI Paton added: “Previously, we have treated the symptoms, now we’re trying to address the cause. Getting in early to the lives of vulnerable children to make that difference.”