Background: Greater collaboration between agencies and the need to improve interagency working is a key policy priority. The lack of co-ordinated multi-agency working in children's services has been highlighted in many research studies. Evidence on the facilitators of and barriers to such working and the outcomes for children and families of co-ordinated services is important to inform local developments.
Methods: Literature on multi-agency working was reviewed as part of the evidence gathering to inform the Children's National Service Framework. Searches were mainly concentrated on existing reviews, plus recent studies which included children's services and were not covered by the reviews obtained.
Results: There is little evidence on the effectiveness of multi-agency working itself or of different models of such working in producing improved outcomes for children and families. However, reviews of evidence on multi-agency working provide consistent findings on facilitators and barriers, including: clear aims, roles and responsibilities and timetables that are agreed between partners; a multi-agency steering group, commitment at all levels of the organizations involved and good systems of communication and information sharing, including IT systems, are central; support and training for staff in new ways of working is needed. There is some evidence that interprofessional programmes of continuing education can help to remove barriers to joint working.
Conclusions: Existing research provides useful information for organizations developing multi-agency services. However, there is a need for methodologically sound research which investigates the outcomes of different models of multi-agency working in services for children, includes assessment of cost effectiveness, and explores the ways in which the factors identified as facilitating multi-agency working relate to outcomes.