A great deal of effort is being poured into strategic partnerships for children's and young people's health. Seamless communication between countless organisations will be critical
These days the very least we expect from the pieces of technology we use is that they can communicate with each other.
The same goes for public services. Interoperability - that inelegant but useful word derived from technology - recognises people do not want to know whether it is the primary care trust, local authority or other provider delivering the service they need, so long as it is consistent and safe and takes place when it is supposed to. And why would they?
This presents a major challenge for commissioners working to improve health outcomes for children. A consistent message from the parents, children and young people using these services is that they want seamlessness. Yet in practice, separate budgets, reporting structures and professional tribalism can make this difficult.
Many organisations - from social care, to the PCT, to housing, to schools and the justice system - need to join up and communicate to promote healthy development for children and support early intervention where needed.
These bodies may also have different views on what outcomes they are striving for. There are big challenges in balancing the high level strategic outcomes required by government with the needs of people within communities, including those with very specific needs, such as teenage mothers.
This is the skill and expertise of commissioning. Agreeing outcomes and ensuring an investment is made in reaching them, rather than the more traditional approach of merely funding services, can make all the difference to results.
In my view, commissioning for appropriate outcomes is more developed in children's services than those for adults. Part of the reason for this is that children's commissioners have made progress in talking to parents, young people and children about the services they would like.
The best children's commissioners also act as the link between the public and service providers. In some of the best cases of joint working, the bodies involved have recognised not only the need to consult together and check services are delivering what they say they will, but also the importance of having shared means of showing the community what services are available and developing.
In Nottinghamshire, for example, the strategic partnership for delivering child and adolescent mental health services is commissioned by two local PCTs. Activity spans seven districts. As well as a strategy for how all these different organisations will work with one another, they have developed joint branding under the Healthy Young Minds logo, which everyone involved use to create posters, booklets and other materials.
But the seamless nature of joint service provision can be hard to achieve. To deliver services in a joined up way that will mean better health outcomes for children and young people, all the partners involved in children's trusts need to consider the experiences of children and families when they move across organisational boundaries.
Joint working solutions
Interoperability may be achieved through pooling budgets, creating joint posts or just ensuring better uses of information and technological solutions. True interoperability requires political, managerial and professional will to make it happen, driven by co-production with children, families and young people. In many areas there is still a long way to go to ensure commissioners are always sufficiently mature and integrated in their thinking to do this.
Commissioners in local authorities and PCTs need more support to work together. Historical positions and different perspectives can drive organisations apart.
The Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department of Health have recently announced joint sponsorship of a commissioning support programme designed to improve the commissioning of services by children's trust partners.
It is still early days but I welcome the fact that it will be tailored to the individual needs of different children's trusts and will try to spread best practice, rather than imposing structures from on high.
The implementation of the child health strategy will also help to clarify the roles of the bodies involved in health services for children and young people. I believe these developments, combined with the comprehensive area assessment increasing the challenge to work together, will mean significant improvements in the health outcomes for children over the coming years. As long as children's trust partners are up to the challenge, that is.