Features: January 19th, 2018

Emma Toublic, head of education information and business systems at Essex County Council, talks about the local authority’s quest to create a single record of a child from birth to adulthood, and the positive impact this is having on the lives of children and families.

The benefits of joining up disparate sources of data to create a secure and central pool of knowledge on children and families cannot be underestimated. This has been our aim here at Essex County Council for the past two years.

We launched an initiative to bring different pieces of data together so that authorised staff within our education support teams have the information they need to see a fuller picture of a child’s life and circumstances.

It was not until we embarked on this journey that we realised what a difference it would make, both to our staff and to the families we work with.

Building a clear picture

Our ultimate vision is to create a single record of a child, from birth to adulthood that can be accessed by those staff who have the appropriate permissions and we are well on our way to achieving this.

The starting point to taking a more joined-up approach to data was to review the way our teams shared information about the children and young people they support. This was key to ensuring that the right information could be put in the right hands, at the right time.

If you are a caseworker for a young person with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) who suddenly stops attending school, for example, your objective is to get the child back into the classroom as quickly as possible. But to devise an effective action plan, there are some key pieces of information you need.

You could make a more informed decision about how to support the child if you know that they were excluded from their primary school two years ago, for example, or that an older sibling in the household has a history of truancy.

The aim was to ensure practitioners can access the details they need to make good decisions for the children and families they are in contact with.

Creating a knowledge hub

The review of data sources revealed that Essex County Council had no fewer than 700 disparate databases, spreadsheets and filing cabinets of information used by children’s services teams.

This meant that it could take time for practitioners to gather the information they needed to establish the reasons why a child with SEND might start missing school, for example. Could it be due to problems with their daily transport? Or had the child been struggling to cope with incidences of bullying?

We wanted our staff to have these key details to hand so that they can
prevent delays in getting a young person such as this who has disengaged from school back into the classroom. So, using Capita’s One management information system, we changed the way we recorded and stored data and created a central hub for information on children and families.

Timely interventions

The system is the foundation stone for a single record of every child that will follow them through to adulthood. This view of a child draws together data right from early years, through primary and secondary school and into youth services.

Staff with the relevant authorisations can access this record, and add to it, whenever it’s necessary, smoothing the way for more effective multi-agency working.

So now, a caseworker can look at child’s record and see if there is a change in their circumstances or a parent who is receiving additional help from the council, helping them to make the right decisions at the right time to make a difference.

Information exchange

With a more effective way to share data in place, we can work more efficiently too. Previously, we would need to arrange meetings for up to 10 different people to discuss the support requirements for a vulnerable child and each professional would bring with them their paper records and notes.

But these days, authorised practitioners can access the system in a few clicks and see the details they need. With key data being shared securely across relevant teams, staff are much better equipped for informed decision-making.

Another key benefit of storing information centrally is that it is easier to support staff when they are out visiting families. Everything a practitioner needs to know about the family is on the system, so they will know and can prepare in advance if there is a dog at the address or there has been an incidence of violence reported, for example.

Future provision

One positive impact of launching this initiative is that it has enabled us to make appropriate arrangements for children not just now, but in the future too, as we have the tools we need to support accurate financial forecasting.

When we are notified of a toddler in the area with a disability, for instance, the relevant team has the information they need to support the family appropriately. It will also enable us to look ahead to the type of provision the family may need in the years to come, from transport to school, to help entering the workplace once they reach adulthood.

And if parents need to inform us of any changes in circumstances, it’s much easier for them to do so. They can go online and register a change of address, a new school or care need, and having told us once, everyone who needs to know will be informed.

Cloud technology

We want our staff to be able to focus their time on activities that support children and families. With this in mind, we opted to hold our data securely in the cloud, so staff don’t need to spend time dealing with day-to-day software issues, or systems maintenance.

With our software upgrades scheduled to take place overnight, or at a time that is convenient for us, the system is ready to use when our staff come into the office in the morning. One of our key tasks, processing offers for school places, took just 15 minutes this year.

Next steps

The next step is to bring in key information from our children’s centres, such as hearing test appointments and parenting classes. With registrar services incorporated, we will be well on our way to delivering our vision of a single record of a child.

This hub of knowledge will sit at the heart of the joined-up service delivered in Essex County Council, enabling us to provide early help where it is needed to improve the future prospects of children and young people across the region.