Primary school pupils

Do social workers have necessary tools to protect vulnerable children?

By: Mark Raeburn, Commercial Director, Capita One
Published: Thursday, December 3, 2015 - 15:32 GMT Jump to Comments

With demand for social care growing, can data and technology be doing more to ensure social workers have the information they need to protect vulnerable children and young people?

When a safeguarding issue is raised, social workers do not want to have to spend time trawling through a mountain of paperwork. They also do not want to log on to different databases to get the information they need to do their jobs, but this can be the reality for some care practitioners.  

A recent report from the Local Government Association revealed that since 2008, children’s social care referrals have risen by 22%. There has been a 65% increase in child protection plans and 16% more children are in care. These figures underline the growing need for practitioners’ precious time to be spent not in administration, but visiting children and families and making the best possible judgements that will improve their lives. 

Since the publication of the Munro review of child protection in 2011, children’s social care is becoming more joined-up, with effective information sharing and a focus on early help at the centre. There are important questions to ask here: is technology keeping up? Are systems delivering what social care teams need?

Better visibility for better decisions

Vulnerable children and their families often face multiple difficulties and live complex lives. To be able to offer effective and sustainable support, it is essential for social workers to have a good understanding of a child’s situation and to be aware of any changes as soon as they happen. This knowledge puts teams in a much stronger position to be able to tackle issues early before it becomes necessary to put more costly interventions in place.

If a social worker knows that a child subject to a child protection plan has missed five sessions of school in the last two weeks, for example, they can step in quickly to find out why and provide the right help before this turns into a long-term absence.

This might require a series of phone calls, a session searching various computer systems to get a clearer picture of a child’s life, or an attempt to find out which other agencies are involved with the family. If the technology available to social workers allows them to get the information they need, with notes from other teams involved, this could save hours of time and enable much faster action.

With key information from schools and teams working with the family in their hands, a practitioner might uncover an underlying problem that needs addressing – perhaps the child’s father is receiving treatment for a mental health issue, and has recently found it more difficult to get them to school regularly. Knowing this could make a real difference to the decisions being made about what support the child or family needs.

Understanding the network around a child

Social workers increasingly need to understand the sometimes complicated relationships around a vulnerable child so that they can put an effective care plan in place to encompass the wider needs of the family. Advances in technology have made it possible for systems to flag personal connections with individuals, such as parents, siblings and even close friendships that may be relevant to their case.

If a relative in the child’s life is known to the police for domestic violence offences, for example, or one of their siblings has been referred to the drug and alcohol prevention service, this could be crucial information that the professionals need to know to keep them safe.

In situations where urgent action is required, precious time can be saved if a social worker can simply get the necessary information. It is better that they are able to find contact details for the professionals they want to speak to, wherever they are, rather than having to come into the office.

Tools are already being developed that will enable a social worker to get instant electronic notifications when a child’s circumstances have changed, or if an emergency foster placement has been approved. This information could make a real difference to a family in crisis.

Getting a clearer outlook

Technology has an important role to play in ensuring caseloads are managed efficiently and effectively. With a ‘dashboard’ of all live cases in one place, a social care team manager could quickly see which practitioners are being stretched by complex cases and where additional capacity exists. They could then provide additional support where it is needed and allocate resources to better meet the needs of the children and families that they are responsible for.

Some authorities are looking at software which allows them to plot addresses on a map, for example, so they can make more informed decisions about which social worker would be best placed to handle a case.

If precise locations are displayed more clearly, it will be easier to see whether a case is too close to home for one social worker, and it will be possible to check if the geographical spread of a caseload is resulting in a practitioner spending too much time travelling. Necessary steps could then be taken to address this.

A new era in children’s social care

We are entering a time when a social worker will be able to log on to a tablet and immediately have access to all the information they need to do their job. This might be all their appointments for the day, the latest attendance data from a child’s school, notes from an education psychologist, or a new referral from a family support worker.

It will even be possible for them to track the achievement of a child they are working with against the national average in English and maths, so that practitioners can work together to improve their life chances.

Technology needs to support social workers in working more collaboratively with multiple teams, sharing information with them simply and securely. Having access to the right information, at the right time, will free them from the burden of administration and better support them in doing what they do best: providing the support needed to give children and their families the chance of a brighter future.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Information Daily, its parent company or any associated businesses.

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