Multi Agency Working In Early Years Essay Contest

Education in Emergencies Essay Contest

Thank you to all who participated in the INEE Essay Contest!

The Essay Contest, which was part of the 10th Anniversary Celebration of the INEE Minimum Standards in the latter half of 2014, was intended to share knowledge, increase awareness of education in emergencies, and provide an opportunity for people around the world to share their thoughts and ideas about what education means to them in times of crisis.

INEE received 722 essay submissions in Arabic, English, French, and Spanish from 52 countries around the world! Essays were judged anonymously by age group, across all languages, based on their relevance to the education in emergencies topic, clarity, creativity, innovative thinking, organization, cohesiveness, and impact on the reader.

Many essays were incredibly strong, and a select few have been highlighted in a special booklet, The Brightest Hope: Essays from around the world on the importance of education in times of crisis.   

In addition to the broader collection of essays in the booklet, the contest resulted in three outstanding winning essays, which are included below. Congratulations to each of the winners! And thank you to all who participated and shared your stories! We would like to acknowledge, with gratitude, WarChild Holland for providing the education related prizes for the winning entries.

Related blog post: Education must be prioritized in times of crisis

Related podcast: Education provides hope for young people in times of crisis


Announcing the 2014 INEE Essay Contest Winners!


6-12 years age group
Mehreen Mirza, 12, Bangladesh

Mehreen is in grade 6. Her hobbies include scrapbooking and reading fantasy stories. When she grows up, she wants to work in an organization and write articles to raise awareness on human rights.

Life can be short, life can be long. Life is always valuable. There are some needs without which life’s value is lessened. Needs like education, which is the foundation of a strong future. Being illiterate is like being blind. This is what I felt when my education had been taken away for a short while.

Over the past few years, I had missed some days of school due to political unrest. My learning had been seriously hampered. My school was closed except of a few weekends and my syllabus was incomplete. The seniors communicated online, which my junior class could not do. Without education, I felt restless and disabled.

I would like to tell those in similar situations to quench their thirst for knowledge. When education is taken away, one’s curiosity and thirst for literacy may reach an unbearable stage. I am grateful to those who provide learning in these times.

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13-17 years age group
Ayesha Saleem, 14, Pakistan

Ayesha is in grade 9. She loves to read novels, especially horror stories. She enjoys playing games on her laptop, watching TV, studying, making new friends and meeting new people. When she grows up, she wants to be a doctor.

The Luckiest Survivor

I woke up as the sparkling sun rays fell upon my face. It was my first day at school and my excitement was at its peak. Like any other child belonging to a poor family, school held a different kind of an attraction for me. But I wouldn’t have thought that my eagerness was short lived and it was to turn into a tragedy. I dressed up quickly, gobbled up my breakfast and headed for school. I was almost flying towards the school. The fear of falling down was almost nonexistent. What mattered to me was my education, my school. I was one of the first few students to reach the school. After brief introductions, the teacher started the lesson. I took my seat beside my best friend. My teacher asked us to take out our English books. As I turned towards my bag something caught my attention.

I saw an overwhelming stream of water flowing right towards us. I froze. I remembered my father fretting over the recent floods in our province and soon realized what was happening. I couldn’t breathe. I turned around to see my class fellows but they were already gone. My heart thudded inside my chest. The flood had hit my town. As I climbed up a nearby tree, I could see people running for their lives. I started crying when I saw my bag floating away.

I don’t remember who pulled me down and how I ended up in a camp. When I returned to my senses, I tried to find my parents. Everything was gone. As I roamed around the camps, I saw my mother packing the things that the flood was kind enough to leave behind. I ran towards her. She started sobbing and told me that we were leaving town and moving to ‘safer’ areas. I could see my brother curled in a ball where my father was sitting holding his head in his hands.

The journey from the camp to the ‘safe’ area was a blur. I tried my best to block out the sounds of crying and moaning. We reached our relative’s house. As the reality sank in, tears started to run down my cheeks. I knew I was lucky to have made it out alive but my incomplete education left a void inside me. For months, I tried to work as a baby sitter for a rich family who treated me well but my heart used to shrink whenever I saw school-going children.

When my employer offered my mother to pay for my school, I thought it was a joke. It was too good to be true and it went against something I had learned from my past: life is unfair. Today, I consider myself an incredible example of how education moulds our lives. We can easily find millions of children who were not as fortunate as me. I have experienced education in emergency and that’s why I consider myself the luckiest survivor.

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18+ years age group
Ivy Kimtai, 21, Kenya

Ivy is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theatre Arts and Film Technology. She would like to pursue writing and directing as a career, and is currently writing for her school magazine. Her hobbies include reading and writing, watching movies and listening to music, as well as travelling and sightseeing.

Ever since I was a little girl, I knew that if I was to be successful in life, I had to go to school. I come from a small village in Kenya in the Mount Elgon region. I knew that to drive a car, I had to go to school because I was told that anyone who came driving to the village had gone to school. I wanted to come back to the village driving one day and have little children lining up at the side of the road watching and cheering me on, then I would give them candy. In my own little way, education mattered to me.

I attended an academy in Mount Elgon for my Certificate in Primary Education. When I was in standard eight which was the final year in primary education, Mount Elgon region suffered a civic and political unrest. I was lucky to be in a boarding school for my friends who were day scholars would sometimes not attend school because of the insecurity and the fear that had gripped the region.

Rebel forces known as Sabaot Land Defence Forces (S.L.D.F) terrorized Mount Elgon. Their main reason for attack was issues dealing with land. They were merciless; they spared no life, not even animals. They were ruthless in their tactics; they chopped off people’s ears, amputated peoples legs, it was a menace. I remember hearing the hushed voices of teachers in the staffroom talking about how bad the situation was. I heard about how one of them had watched his family from a bush being slaughtered and he couldn’t do anything about it. I remember hearing him weep about how helpless he felt. School was the only safe place because we had the Kenyan soldiers surrounding the place.

Children stopped coming to school. My best friend missed school for close to a week. I was worried sick. He was the only one who could tell me how my family was. I was worried for him and for his family and for my village. The exams were drawing close. Most teachers now lived in school and since most of the standard eight students were boarders we kept on going with our revision for the exams.

Teachers told us that life had to go on, that we had even the more reason to study; education would be our only way out. Amidst gunshots, watching huts rising up in flames in the nearby village, we toiled. We cried for our families’ lives in prayer every night which we happened to spend under the beds. We were living in fear; constant hooting of owls, the gunshots were worse and louder at night. Since we could not go outside to the latrine, we had a bucket in the dormitories, the smell was way better than the smell of death and fresh blood that blanketed the night air.

One of the darkest days of those days is when we heard about the death of our Kiswahili teacher. The school was tense. He was a good man. I remember it was a Friday. We raised the flag in a somber mood and sang the National Anthem. We had heard of his passing as a rumour, we waited for confirmation from the school head, hoping that that was all it was, a rumour. His family had been attacked the previous night and since the rebel group always looked for the man of the house, he was hiding in the ceiling; he was found and shot dead as his wife and children watched. We sobbed in silence.

Education had saved our lives. If it were not for being in school, most of us would have lost our lives, or worse still, we would have become child soldiers. Education was the only way out of this menace. We had to let the region know that there were better ways of solving conflicts than war. We would teach the region that land is not the only asset you can have.

The lights in the dormitory had to be switched off at night so as to attract less attention to us, except for the security lights outside. Every night until the wee hours of the morning together with the rest of the students, we crammed at the window, reading with the dim lights. You were lucky if your bed was close to a window. You even got more friends. More favours. More bread during tea break the following day.

Being in school guaranteed us food and water. Food was a scarce commodity during that period. Mount Elgon is an area that has fertile soils therefore most of our food produce is in the farms. The rebels burnt most of that down to paralyze the village. The only food was dry maize which needed to be taken to the Posho mill to be ground but they were all shut down because of insecurity reasons. All shops were closed if not looted by the rebels hence food scarcity, unlike the entire village, we still could have three meals a day and drink clean water.

Most of the young girls had been raped and left mentally scarred, wounds that in more cases than none are almost incurable. Many women and young girls were molested and either infected with HIV and or got pregnant. Those of us in school, education had allowed us the sanity of our innocence.

I remember when the results came out, that was the year our school had performed the best in its history. The government had somehow managed to contain the situation. Most of us had passed and went to prestigious national schools. I went to a national school.

I remember all this like it was yesterday. I am now in my final year in University. Education got me here. Until I can buy a car, drive back to my village; have children lining up by the side of the road and giving them candy, I am not there yet.

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[Page xvii]

When I began researching for this book I was struck by how few publications focused on this approach – multi-agency working. Significantly the majority of those that do are written from particular points of view in relation to their own profession, such as Weinstein, Whittington and Leiba whose focus is on social work and the research documented by Barr, Koppel, Reeves, Hammick and Freeth which investigates multi-agency working in the context of health. An important exception is the work of Angela Anning and her team who specifically researched multi-professional practice. There are references to multi-agency working in other publications and significantly more in more recent years. However, when you investigate multi-agency working in the Early Years there remains very little material, despite the emphasis on ‘joined-up thinking’ that has increased in the last ten years.

In exploring the issues around multi-agency practice in the Early Years several aspects will hopefully become clearer:

  • There are features of multi-agency working which are universal.
  • There are features of multi-agency working that are context-specific.
  • To be successful requires visionary leadership.
  • There are contradictions arising from different expectations.
  • You have to be realistic about where you and your partners are starting from.
  • The potential gains are exciting and do make a real difference to all involved.
  • The consequences of not doing so can be disastrous.

The universal features are to do with the nature of relationships between people. All the writers acknowledge that the aims make sense: it is common sense to share information, to work in partnership and harmony, to recognise each others’ potential contributions especially when trying to meet the needs of essentially the same people. They also acknowledge that, as Friedman suggests, we have to be realistic about our historical practices and predispositions to fully understand our starting points and to be in a good position to plan changes to ‘turn the curve’ and move towards new goals (Friedman, 2005). The ability to be open to the perspectives of other colleagues, to be willing to engage in dialogue to explore similarities and differences, to respect others and genuinely listen as well as speak, are essential whatever the context of developing multi-agency working.

The aspects that are context-specific are influenced by past and existing relationships between settings, families and communities and other professionals and agencies. They are to do with factors specific to the setting such as:

[Page xviii]
  • the phase, size and location of the setting;
  • staff numbers, skills, qualifications and range of professional backgrounds;
  • the stage of team development;
  • the relationship between the different elements of the reach area;
  • the leadership style and approach of the setting head/manager;
  • the relationships with those who provide or contribute to core services;
  • the structure, attitude and expectation of local authority departments and officers.

In some cases settings demonstrate positive approaches and a sense of direction and generate new ideas and approaches while others struggle. You cannot ignore the context or pretend the constraints or opportunities are different from the reality presented. In order to be realistic the quality and experience of setting and local leadership is a critical factor, for the ethos and tone is often established by the leadership and can liberate or constrain (Dahlberg et al., 1999; Hargreaves and Fink, 2008).

The quality of leadership has been shown to be a critical ingredient for successful partnership working. Successful multi-agency leaders tend to show a capacity to be visionary and to see the positive potential in situations and people. They are able to stand back from the immediate, to reflect and to draw on different leadership styles and approaches to address issues. They welcome challenge and recognise change as inevitable. They listen and allow others to contribute, actively encouraging dialogue and discussion and being willing to seek new perspectives and follow alternative approaches. They are careful to nurture the potential in their team and to grow new leaders. They genuinely value and respect all they work with and tend to be open and non-judgemental. They are often financially aware, or can draw on someone who is, and are able to manage the difficult balance between freedom and form. Where the leadership style is limited or one-dimensional, where the approach is more rigid and less flexible, where it lacks tolerance of others and is reluctant to see or accept other perspectives, the success of partnership working is also limited, constrained and unlikely to be sustained.

Partnership working itself is complex and multi-dimensional. It is ground-breaking and is often seen as a challenge to established relationships, systems of organisation, hierarchies and power relationships. It requires innovative approaches in order to begin to work. It often involves bringing together people with differing views, all of whom believe their view and ‘way’ is right, and professions with differing approaches to practice, all of which believe their approach is ‘proper’ or the only way. In this potential maelstrom it is easy to lose sight of the child, the family and community in the struggle to maintain power, influence, control and dominance.

Multi-agency settings such as children's centres are using innovative approaches to leadership where roles and responsibilities are clear but hierarchies are flattened. The leaders themselves model approaches that they wish staff to adopt when [Page xix]working with children, parents and colleagues and they model these approaches when meeting with colleagues from other agencies and professions. Non-judgemental and open approaches where dialogue, reflection and discussion help shape policy and practice and where contributions from all are encouraged and everyone is valued have been shown to work well in establishing positive relationships with partners and within teams. However, these same approaches are immensely challenging to those for whom a ‘top down’ model is the only way of working. They can and do generate tension where partners are used to structured and hierarchical approaches where those at lower tiers do as they are told by their line managers. Leaders have to be able to deal with contradictions and their practical implications.

Some of the contradictions are to do with differing government agendas and priorities. For example, the national targets to address health, employment and poverty issues generate top-down pressures, but the system advocated and encouraged for partnership working is essentially bottom-up. Targets to encourage healthy diet and reductions in obesity, smoking and alcohol abuse can create anxiety and undermine attempts to improve confidence and well-being, particularly if there is a lack of consultation between the partners involved. The emphasis on improving attachment and supporting the quality of family life for babies and parents in the first year does not sit well with the government's drive to have more women in work; accessible childcare can mean parents use a large number of different carers in any week which undermines the child's well-being and confidence.

The aims of children's centres represent a different approach. They set out to work with children, parents, families and communities to identify needs and then to meet them. This approach requires different relationships from the traditional well established models where an external expert is trusted to know and to advise or recommend. Their approach to policy and to finance does not follow traditional pathways because the way services are provided and funded, and the staff who run them, is often innovative and has no existing form or model. This can be a challenge accepted positively with new forms worked out in practice, but can also be approached in a negative way which imposes an existing and inappropriate system. The same is true of the timescales involved in identifying, planning and providing services, and the way their success is monitored and measured.

Multi-agency also means multi-dimensional. Those engaged in multi-agency working have to be realistic and understand they are dealing with complexity, even if they cannot see how to begin to disentangle the jumble of strands of interests and opinions. In this respect starting with the children and parents or carers can provide a clearer focus, especially for those closest to them. For leaders of multi-agency work the task is harder, mainly because of the complex relationships, perceptions of power and authority, influences of specific professional training and practice, constraints of regulations whether real or perceived, and pressures of time and finance. All those involved have to be realistic about where they are starting from and what has to be put in place to support how they want to move forward.

The benefits of partnership working have been shown to work at different levels. The use of a single key worker located in a particular site has helped individuals and families to improve their levels of confidence and well-being and to become self-sufficient. The level of trust between members of partnership teams and the [Page xx]families and communities has enabled a real and equal partnership where needs can be identified and met. Partnerships between professionals and agencies have meant better access to services and an avoidance of duplication and greater consistency in approaches which in turn has meant services have been delivered in a more efficient and cost-effective way. The potential positive effects on children and their longer-term ability to thrive, learn and contribute have been noted by research such as the Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE – see DfES, 1997–2004) study and partnership working can contribute significantly to this. The need for supporting mothers and babies to establish secure relationships and bonding which underpin their well-being and confidence are also important areas of partnership work through children's centre teams.

Where there is an absence of partnership working or where it breaks down, the consequences can be unthinkable. The examples of Victoria Climbié and Baby ‘P’ must serve as a spur to all to work towards improved partnerships and better quality provision.

Who Is This Book for?

This book is primarily for practitioners and undergraduates but will be of interest to anyone who has to work in a multi-agency context or is interested in knowing more. Multi-agency working is referred to as partnership working throughout as a generic term.

What Does It Cover?

  • Chapter 1 sets the scene and examines what partnership working is, why it is important and how it has developed.
  • Chapter 2 explores what partnership working looks like and the associated benefits.
  • Chapter 3 uses three case studies from other countries which have influenced partnership working development and looks more closely at the way political emphasis has influenced developments in partnership working in England and Wales.
  • Chapter 4 uses examples to illustrate how partnership working is put into practice.
  • Chapter 5 focuses more closely on identifying needs and benefits to children, parents and communities.
  • Chapter 6 looks at the challenges that face leaders in meeting the changes required to support successful partnership working. This chapter also looks at key differences between schools and children's centres.
  • Chapter 7 looks at the new professionals and the current and future skills and training they will need.

The book provides a short summary at the start of each chapter and key points are set out at the end. Reflection points and action points are inserted into the text to [Page xxi]encourage the reader to consider aspects of the issues raised and their implications for practice. Hopefully the reader will engage with these points and get the most out of them.

The many examples provided by colleagues are real cases but the anonymity of settings and individuals is respected and names have been changed to maintain confidentiality. Where cases are constructions to illustrate specific kinds of actions or responses, this is clearly indicated.

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