Collaborative solutions or new policy problems: exploring multi-agency partnerships in education and health work
Since coming to power in 1997, two successive Labour Governments in the UK have actively attempted to tackle the problem of what they have called 'social exclusion'. Their argument has been that social problems, which are overlapping and inter-related, need 'joined-up' policy solutions. For example, poor housing and low income can contribute towards and exacerbate lack of success in schooling and need to be tackled simultaneously. The Labour Government has argued that what is needed is a multi-agency partnership response which harnesses the strengths and expertise of a variety of welfare perspectives. This 'partnership' approach currently, characterizes social welfare policy-making in the UK. This paper critically explores the perceptions and experiences of those involved in one such multi-agency partnership which has been established to challenge an aspect of social exclusion: the exclusion of children from primary schools. At the same time, the paper examines the ways in which policy is constructed and enacted by those charged with its implementation. Initially, current policies are considered in respect of social exclusion focusing on some problems and dilemmas of multi-agency partnerships, as highlighted in other research. Drawing on data from one study, this paper goes on to examine partnership in one specific context, which combines health, education and social work in an inner-city primary school setting. Finally, it is argued that, if multi-agency partnerships are to achieve their potential, greater understanding of the difficulties involved in implementing new policies in such contexts needs to be considered at the outset.