Welcome to our final blog for our Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) sponsored Family Context project. This blog will give a final update on our journey so far, the highs and lows and will provide useful links to the work we have completed in getting us to where we are now.
Where we are now
We have a live, working tool in Stockport that our social workers are accessing regularly when accepting new referrals and undertaking initial assessments. The tool is used in all areas of Social Work, including our:
- MASSH (Multi-agency safeguarding and support hub)
- Locality teams who cover Child in need, Child Protection and Looked after Children
- Out of Hours (otherwise known as the Emergency Duty) team
- Children with Disabilities team
Although the tool is constantly evolving and being updated with new datasets and information, we have also developed a sandbox version so external organisations can learn from our work, see how it looks, its capabilities and some of the datasets we can access. Please see our Family Context Toolkit page.
How we got here
It has been an interesting and exciting journey, but most importantly has been a huge learning experience with lots of highs and lows along the way. You can read the progress of the project through our six previous blogs, starting with the initial award from Local Digital Fund in 2019.
At the outset, we predicted that our biggest challenge would be getting buy-in from the service. However, with lots of perseverance, this proved more successful than anticipated. The success of this was attributed to:
- We had familiar social workers involved with the tool to champion it and feedback to the rest of the service
- We have kept it simple. One of the biggest obstacles to learning a new system is its complexities and the time it takes to learn, something which social workers don’t have. When we showed it to workers on the ground, they were pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to navigate.
- We have access to a usage monitoring tool where we can see which workers have used the tool and how often. As a result, we can target the workers who aren’t using it and understand why.
- We listened to the workers and provided them with a variety of opportunities to give their feedback, highlight issues and test the tool out until they were happy with it. This was in the form of weekly steering groups, bombarding them with regular emails and devising an evaluation process for them to take part in.
- We have added the tool as a direct link from our case management system and placed in some prompts when opening specific assessments and documents, which are a mandatory part of their everyday work. Please see an example below, which is situated at the top of the Child and Family (S17) assessment in bold red letters as soon as it is initiated.
Since our last blog
Additional datasets which are now in the live tool include additional education data, which shows a snapshot of the % of unauthorised attendances and any exclusions within the last three terms.
We also now have the school nurse data, which is linked to individual schools. This means social workers can save time trying to identify the school nurse and seeking a contact number. This allows for crucial information to be shared regarding any health concerns relating to a child.
Where we have accessed other data, we have worked tirelessly to tidy it up and place it into a readable version. In addition, we had to match the data with existing data in our case management system. This proved to be more difficult than originally anticipated, as when we ran it through the data warehouse, we identified many duplicate records and missing information, making it difficult to match individuals. It was critical to get this right, or it could have led to a whole host of data protection issues and possible breaches. For guidance on data implementation, see the Family Context toolkit.
Working closely with the Information Governance (IG) team, we have been provided with crucial advice and support around any IG implications to carrying out tasks in developing the tool. As part of the project, we have developed our Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA) which is an ongoing document and will be updated every time new information is added to the Family Context tool. View our DPIA on the Family Context Toolkit page.
In our last blog, we were undertaking our final evaluation, which mimicked the evaluation of the pilot. The results were almost identical. We identified that across Stockport, the tool saved 18,402 hours per year and 1,534 hours per month (compared to 19,000 hours per year and 1,585 hours per month in the pilot evaluation). We will continue to monitor the amount of time saved as we introduce more datasets. View our full evaluation reports for both the pilot and the phase two rollout on the Family Context Toolkit page.
There have been lots of achievements for us here at Stockport:
- Success in getting the ‘buy-in’ of the service with regards to using the tool:
- The Stockport Family leadership team were on board with the service using the tool and supported the benefits it could bring to service improvement, in particular in saving time and being able to access those crucial services easily, so further meaningful conversations could take place.
- Social Worker ‘buy-in’, positive feedback and good usage of the tool
- We set up a weekly steering group led by a Social Worker from the service. This helped with uptake and allowed for openness and honesty with understanding and support as to the possible barriers as well as opportunities within the tool.
- Securing a multi-disciplinary team who worked well together to help develop the tool
- We were able to develop a sharepoint site where we could share our learning journey and publish documents we have produced along the way. Some of the information includes our Data Protection Impact Assessment, our series of blogs including this one, our top level plan, initial training which we developed for Social Workers, Minutes from Steering Group meetings, test scripts and evaluation tools with the final evaluation of the project.
- Two evaluations of the tool undertaken using the same process, one during the pilot and the other following rollout.
- Analytics tool developed so usage can be monitored.
- Six blogs completed to show our journey of the Family context tool within Stockport. Family Context Toolkit page.
- The tool contributed towards winning the 2022 Local Government Chronicle (LGC) Digital Impact Award.
While the primary purpose of this DLUHC-sponsored project was to bring together disparate data to support the social work assessment process, it has also brought a number of additional benefits that we hadn’t planned.
- Greater focus on data quality and integration. As mentioned above, matching disparate data is difficult as the data/fields used for matching aren’t always the same in the source systems – think about the different spelling of a forename, for example. As we continue on our digital transformation journey, we cannot allow poor-quality data or integration challenges to hinder our progress. As part of Family Context, we have developed a Master Data Management solution that enables us to match data more easily, and this is being used for other projects.
- Data sharing “art of the possible”. Developing the DPIAs and introducing new data sharing has helped evidence what is possible. Given the sensitive nature of the data involved, it can sometimes feel that introducing new sharing is impossible. While a lot of time and effort went into the development of the Information Governance gateways, it has helped evidence what is possible.
- Data Innovation – Savings/medium-term financial plan opportunities. Bringing together data is helping us to identify new opportunities for streamlining services, removing duplication and enabling digital transformation. Examples include identifying fraud more easily and streamlining the process for the Supporting Families programme and voucher schemes. Plus, we have plans to develop a single view of debt across multiple organisations to assist residents.
- Obtaining relevant datasets
- Identifying the right people to talk to within individual organisations
- Getting the right people around the table in the first place
- Differing perspectives and understanding of IG.
- Differing agency policies and procedures around processes, IG etc.
- Data is stored and arranged in different ways and documents, therefore difficulties deciphering, tidying up and ensuring accurate data has been obtained
Plans for the next 6 to 12 months
- To continue to obtain as many datasets as possible, that will benefit the service when working with Children and Families – an example includes youth offending data.
- To support other Local Authorities with the development and implementation of the Family Context project within their own Councils, sharing best practice, issues and solutions
- To continue to communicate with social workers to promote the tool, encourage its use and ensure the tool is delivering to its potential and that this is benefitting the service, which in turn benefits the residents of Stockport.
Recommendations for future
It needs to be clear for any local authority wanting to implement Family Context in future that the initial start-up of the tool does require lots of dedication, perseverance, and hard work. A robust plan must be carefully thought out from the beginning, which includes a team of dedicated workers on the projects. We have found as part of our journey that some local authorities just don’t have employee capacity. However, once the project is underway and plans come together, it can start to move very quickly.
Do undertake research around external datasets and their policies and procedures around information sharing. Some of the biggest challenges we have faced is the lack of compatibility between systems, the disorganisation of existing data and the IG implications around this. In addition, reluctance to share the data in the first place due to fears around IG, consent, and data protection have placed further barriers in the way. Having a dedicated worker from our IG team has massively supported with some of the obstacles.
Where this is the case, it will be crucial to be part of the right networks with the right people from each organisation around the table in the first place. These should include IG leadership from each organisation and other senior leaders who can make those initial decisions.
Links to all blogs, evaluation documents, the DPIA, a sandbox version of the tool and the back-end code are all available on the Family Context Toolkit page. If you have any further questions relating to implementing the tool within your own organisation, please email us.
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