Background: Poor co-ordination of services can have severe consequences for disadvantaged children with complex needs. Since 2003 national and local governments in England embarked on sweeping reforms aimed at improving and integrating local health, education and social services for children. These were to be organized locally by children's trusts and piloted by 35 children's trust pathfinders.
Methods: This study described and compared the experience of integrating children's services in all 35 children's trust pathfinders, covering 20% of children in England. It had a prospective mixed-methods design. Over 3 years we interviewed 147 managers and professionals working in the children's trusts, including 172 semi-structured interviews, carried out two questionnaire surveys of the 35 children's trusts and analysed official documents.
Results: In most areas different agencies jointly commissioned children's services, especially for mental health, disabilities and multi-purpose children's centres, and increasingly pooled finances. Provision of multi-agency and multi-professional services was increasing. Professionals generally supported these changes but found them stressful. All children's trusts appointed directors of children's services and established boards representing multiple agencies. Systems for sharing information about individual children were mostly in place but were still underused. Health services were generally less involved in joint work than were local authorities' education and social care services, with notable exceptions. Areas where local authorities and health authorities shared geographical boundaries made most progress. Some children's trusts made few changes beyond their statutory obligations.
Conclusion: Children's trusts enabled major changes to services in areas where local actors and organizations were motivated and empowered. In other areas the remit of children's trusts was often too broad and vague to overcome entrenched organizational and professional divisions and interests. Policymakers need to balance facilitation of change in areas with dynamic change agents with methods for ensuring that dormant areas and agencies are not left behind.
- Service integration