Features: September 30th, 2016

A new era is dawning in which information sharing between social workers, multi-agency teams and families will help ensure vulnerable children get the support they need, sooner. Mark Raeburn lays out his vision for a more connected future for social care – built on effective early help.

One of the key points made in the recently published ADCS report, Pillars & Foundations: Next practice in children’s services, was a call for the sector to become much more proactive in delivering early help. Underlining this was a recommendation for a greater level of engagement between teams such as social care, health and early years and the families they support.

Multi-agency working has increasingly become the golden thread for ensuring vulnerable children and families get the help they need before a problem becomes a crisis. But as serious case reviews so often highlight, effecting information sharing is a key element in keeping children safe and improving their life chances.

Flagging the early warning signs

From the very start of a child’s life, health and developmental checks take place that are designed to pinpoint potential areas of concern so that the most appropriate help can be offered without delay. This information could be of great value to social care teams in contact with that child too.

Imagine a nursery practitioner or childminder who notices that a child has stopped interacting with other children or starts behaving violently, which is out of character. This could indicate a change at home that their social worker should know about. But nursery staff may not necessarily know that social services are involved, or the social worker might not automatically be made aware of the new situation.

Knowing social services is supporting the family, a nursery worker is more likely to pick up the phone and alert the social worker when the behaviour or circumstances of a vulnerable child change unexpectedly. This could provide the vital early warning sign needed to keep them safe.

Team around a child

In the past, information on children and families has often been held in separate databases by the different agencies they might be in contact with – a health worker, education psychologist or the Troubled Families team, for example. Information shared effectively and securely across multi-agency teams can reduce the likelihood of a child at risk slipping through the net and help ensure signs of abuse and neglect are picked up sooner.

In recent years, advances in technology have made it easier for the information recorded by multi-agency teams to be brought together, allowing it to be viewed from one place by all those who need it.

This means that a social worker visiting a family could see the latest information from their healthcare worker, nursery or even the children’s centre they visited earlier in the week. And any critical notes added by the social worker could be viewed by all those authorised to see it, making it easier for teams to work together to improve outcomes for the most vulnerable.

Parents have become more involved in shaping the services designed to support them in caring for their children too. It is now possible for parents of children with special educational needs and disabilities to contribute notes and information to their child’s Education Health and Care plan (EHC), for example, via a secure, online portal. The move is transforming the role of the family in children’s services and putting parents at the heart of the social care agenda.

But to be truly proactive in children’s services, you need to get knowledge from information. This has been a key area of development for technology in recent years.

Raising standards

Local authorities are increasingly using the wealth of data on children and families available to them to drive decision making across children’s services. Information on parents who have not taken up their entitlement to free childcare, for example, can help local authorities ensure the right services are being offered, where they are needed. Local authorities can also use this data to identify vulnerable children and offer targeted services at the earliest possible stage to improve their life chances.

As the ADCS report acknowledges, this is an exciting as well as a challenging time to be working for children and families. As innovations in technology emerge to meet the demands of a more joined-up children’s services, efficient and effective information sharing will be critical to success.

When managed well, early help has the potential to improve lives and significantly reduce future demand on the care system, so that social workers can focus more of their time on supporting society’s most vulnerable children and families.

Mark Raeburn is managing director of Capita One, supplier of the One management information system used by 120 local authorities to manage data on children and families.