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Key link inthe circle

Stephanie Northen meets a champion of the multi-agency approach

Madelaine Geikie insists she is a nobody. She has no status and no desk. Ideally she would not have a job title either, but the world being the way it is she had to choose one.

On her tax return she confesses to being a behaviour consultant with 33 years of management experience in social services, mental health, teaching and youth work. To a group of Essex primary schools, however, she is simply their support worker. These schools, located in and around Clacton-on-Sea, are her employers - all 21 of them. She stresses that she belongs to them all equally. For each of them she is prepared to support any child, member of staff or parent who has a problem, usually linked to challenging behaviour. She is the gateway to outside agencies and a familiar face who can be called in an emergency.

Teachers can get tired of so-called experts whizzing in and out, leaving only paperwork and panaceas behind them. Madelaine Geikie tries for the "multi-agency approach that everyone talks about, but you rarely see in action". She has good relations with local GPs, welfare officers, social services and so on. In a joined-up world she is the one who does the joining and the inspiration for her appointment came from the schools themselves.

Three years ago Clacton County High school put up the money for her job. Clacton-on-Sea is a deprived area and the effects of parental poverty and stress rub off. Eleven-year-olds were arriving atsecondary school with emotional and behavioural problems that teachers felt should have been tackled earlier. Now the biggest primary of the 21 has taken over responsibility for her wages and the others buy into the service. She visits 11 of the schools weekly and the rest on a rolling schedule. Often her role is to listen.

"Parents and staff say it is great that someone listens, someone who is not on anyone's side, and that's the key. I'm on the side of the school community. I say I'm nobody - I do know social services, I do know the health authority - I can share what they're telling me with them, but otherwise they can talk to me off the cuff. That is what people value."

She finds that parents and teachers can be open with her. "Sometimes a teacher will want to say 'Look, I just can't handle my class'. Often this is for a very good reason, but is still not an easy thing to say."

Frances Booker, head of St Clare's primary in Clacton, has just started working with Madelaine Geikie. "She offers on-the-spot support for staff. And she helps target children with problems earlier, stepping in before the education authority would consider becoming involved."

Once in a school Madelaine does whatever its head feels needs doing. This could be working with a whole class, running circle time, or perhaps observing a difficult child. Madelaine says she is a supporting colleague for everybody in the schools or "a catalyst for all these really nice people to get things done".

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