Welcome to the latest blog for our Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government/ Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (MHCLG/DLUHC) sponsored Family Context project. It’s been a while since we last published a blog, as we had to re-prioritise our work to assist with our Covid response. However, we picked everything up again last year, and there has been a lot of exciting progress in recent months.

Since our last blog, we have run a successful pilot using live data, with excellent feedback from social workers, and we are now rolling out the tool across Stockport. We have ambitious plans to collaborate with government departments and other councils on using the existing tool and its future development. We also aim to repurpose the underlying technology platform for other uses, helping to support our digital transformation journey.

We also want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has been involved in the project. It’s been a long journey to get here, but the future is bright, and we are all excited to see what is possible.

A reminder of how we got here

You can find more information on the background of this project on the Local Digital website. However, in summary, we are tackling the problem of how best to provide social workers with key information on relevant people in a family and the services engaged with them when they first make contact. What we had discovered was:

  • social workers sometimes have incomplete information, which can change decisions and outcomes for children and families
  • social workers waste time chasing information, which they would prefer to spend with the family

We wanted to see if we could apply data and digital solutions to help solve these problems.

Following the delay, in late 2020, we picked up the project again and resumed the data matching and cleansing tasks required to begin the pilot with social workers. This continued into the middle of 2021, when we started focussing on preparations for the rollout to users in October.

The beta pilot (October – November 2021)

We populated the tool with live data, ready to use in the Autumn of 2021. Below are screenshots of the tool in action. As you can see, it provides basic information on service involvement and contact details of relevant professionals for social workers to speak to. It is simple and intuitive to use and meets  the necessary accessibility criteria .

Screenshot of form with person's details displayed

Result page

Screenshot of form with information displayed

Page with service information

A few simple steps pull up the information the user needs:

  1. Social workers access the tool using their case management system login details (in this case Liquidlogic). This reduces the number of usernames and passwords and makes the process easier for users
  2. They then search for adults or children using name or case management system identifiers
  3. The results page shows any matched individual records, which the social worker then selects
  4. If the social worker wishes to, they can click on a button to view summary details, including the relevant service involvement and contact details.

It matches and aggregates data from education, adult social care, and housing services each day, using our Business Intelligence team’s in-house master data management solution.

Eight social workers, including four senior social workers, were involved across five different teams.  We delivered training and support throughout the pilot.

To assist with the evaluation, we undertook several surveys, semi-structured interviews, diary studies and monitored activity using Google analytics.

Beta Pilot Evaluation

So after eight weeks of social workers using the tool, what did we find?  The great news is we achieved what we initially set out to:

  • It saved time for social workers, prioritising more time to spend with families
  • It empowered social workers to make informed decisions more easily
  • Services around a family can be better connected

Initial use of the tool was good, and this continued throughout the pilot period. Users liked the tool, reporting it was easy to use.  In terms of performance, we only experienced one technical issue throughout the pilot, and we were able to resolve this the same day.

It was used for several different use cases, including new assessments, quick checks with existing cases, case handovers and supporting newly qualified social workers.  It provided valuable information that has informed social workers actions, including:

  • Having information at their fingertips to help with decision making
  • Providing new information they would not otherwise have seen
  • Enabling immediate action, for example, child safeguarding

However, one of the most significant benefits of the tool was the amount of time it saved social workers, averaging over 2 hours for each new referral.  Most searches would take 2-3 hours or possibly more without Family Context.  However, using Family Context, the average search is now 20 minutes.

There is still work to do to roll this tool out to all social workers, but the additional time the tool provides enables more time with the family, helping to provide more support and reduce risk.

The greatest call for improvement has been the demand for more data – a range of additional datasets were proposed, with probation and GP information flagged as the highest priority.

 

Bar chart showing datasets requested

Exciting times ahead

It’s great to see the tool is still being used by the social workers involved in the pilot without support from the project team, and we are now rolling this out to all social workers in Stockport.

As we bring in more datasets, we will continue to evaluate the tool’s effectiveness for social work practice and the amount of time saved.  Some datasets will be easier to include than others, and we will begin with the datasets we already have access to, addressing the data ethics and information governance considerations as we do this.

We are also keen to collaborate with others to assist in developing information governance gateways for some of the more complicated datasets, such as probation and health.

Given how successful the pilot was, we are confident we can build on this success in the next phase of the project and we will continue to share our progress in the open.

We are also keen to work with another local authority as we look to roll out Family Context in other localities, using the open source tool and implementation guide to assist with this. If you would like any further information please feel free to get in touch.

We look forward to sharing an update on the next phase soon.

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