I know that there is a whole host of things that either help or hinder social workers and local authorities (LAs) in getting the job done and doing the best for children.
Accurate, timely information to inform risk assessment and decision-making and good-quality data have always been important in social care. They help professionals to make the right decisions, for the right children, at the right time. This information is stored in electronic case records systems (known in LAs as integrated children’s systems (ICSs)). If LAs are to support the most vulnerable children in England as well as they possibly can, their ICSs have to be effective.
I know from my own experience just how important this is. The ICS has to help social workers to do their jobs, help managers to have good oversight of what is happening so that they can identify issues quickly and, last but not least, make sure that the LA is able to do its mandatory reporting as easily as possible.
Anecdotal evidence from LAs suggests that their ICSs do not always enable good social work practice. We wanted to understand the kind of challenges that LAs face, so we asked every LA in the country some questions about the systems they used, their cost, and what issues (if any) they had in getting and using data from those systems.
Around half (79) of all the LAs responded. The responses mainly came from professionals who work in data and analysis, performance and IT teams. Thank you to those who shared their views with us.
The results, published today, show that, regardless of which case recording system an LA has or what the individual supplier is, the work to extract, report and analyse children’s social care data is often difficult.
Though some respondents identified positives about their ICS, others said that the issues they faced hampered how well they could support managers and social workers.
LAs’ main problems with the information systems
- Reporting: Almost three quarters of the LAs that responded said that they had difficulties with reporting data. This included problems producing statutory (mandatory) reports for the Department for Education (DfE). This impacts on the main data collections on children in care and children in need.
- Resourcing: Over two thirds of respondents highlighted resource issues. For example, staff had to implement ‘workarounds’ and do extra work to make up for what the system could not do.
- Relationship with the supplier: Half of LAs that responded cited issues or difficulties with the ICS supplier.
- Poor user experience: Half of the LAs that responded mentioned negative experiences using their ICS. They reported, for example, the consequences from a poorly implemented system or the system not working as intended.
- Processes and workflows: Workflows within ICSs are usually designed to mimic the sequential order in which social workers carry out their work. However, two fifths of the LAs that responded mentioned problems with how the databases were set up. In some cases, even when systems were customised to local practice, they did not capture data well.
Effective information systems are essential if social workers are to respond quickly and appropriately to children, address concerns for their welfare and protection, and maximise their opportunities to have good outcomes. ICSs also have a vital role in providing evidence needed for local and national policy and decision-making.
Our survey found that there is clearly still some way to go for some ICSs to support good social work practice. Indeed, in some cases, they are adding to social workers’ and managers’ burdens.
There has been welcome action in the last few months. We know that the Department for Education has recognised the issue and is meeting LAs and IT suppliers to discuss the way forward. I am pleased that there is some momentum in reducing these issues. Every LA needs a good-quality information system, properly implemented, with good quality data that can support good social work practice.