Social workers are a lifeline to young families and children in the UK, but can be held back by the systems and technology they work with, spending as much as 80% of their time on administration tasks. The Department for Education (DfE) recognised a need to free up this time, allowing for more direct work with children and families in need. The DfE holds a unique role in the world of children's’ social care, and hopes to improve outcomes for children by creating more functional environments and tools for social workers.
Building on DfE’s strategic approach, the ‘Whole System Look’ of holistic understanding of the digital and technology landscape in children’s social care, DfE invited FutureGov to undertake a discovery into how we might optimise digital and technology for social workers and enable better information sharing between partner agencies.
Our discovery began with a rapid literature review, taking a hypothesis-led approach drawing on years of experience, from both DfE and FutureGov, in conducting research in children’s social care settings with system leaders, managers, social workers, multi-agency partners and families. We also engaged with DfE policy and digital colleagues to understand the wider policy landscape. This existing work allowed us to narrow our brief, develop a set of hypotheses around existing problems and develop a research plan to test core assumptions.
Through a combination of desk research, interviews and mock-ups of lo-fi and digital concepts, we tested our hypotheses by speaking to front door staff, social workers, team managers, health visitors and police officers at councils across the country. We varied our research locations to reach a wide range of council types in different geographic regions with varied OFSTED ratings to develop the fullest picture possible. The research was not just about understanding user needs, but also assessing feasibility and viability.
Ultimately, we found there is an opportunity for DfE and digital to help
- enable more effective recording for social workers
- build stronger relationships with and around families
- system leaders and social workers align on recording best practice
From our research, we found that social workers’ current tools are not enabling good practice and result in time spent on less valuable activities, namely interacting with families and children. Facing complex caseloads and ineffective technology, it can be hard to prioritise tasks, record content and complete all visits and assessments.
We identified an opportunity to enable more effective recording for social workers to help with prioritisation of time, recording on-the-go and recording for different audiences, all through a trusted system.
Multi-agency information sharing
From this research, we found that front door staff often need to make crucial decisions quickly. To do so, they need basic information but do not have access to verified databases that contain a more complete understanding of a child’s experience.
We identified six opportunities for technology to help improve children’s social care outcomes for families, practitioners and local authorities:
Gathering information at the front door
Social workers are unable to access the systems and databases of the different agencies involved in a child’s care journey. Technology can support front door workers to gather the information from those who can, leading to better referrals and the inclusion of the relevant information in cases.
Timely sharing of information with partners
The pace of multi-agency working is often limited to that of the slowest system in the collective. Shared technology can provide a flexible referral tool to allow for the timely sharing of information and concerns with partners.
Improving information sharing
Bringing together changing contexts in multi-agency working makes it difficult for staff to consider the most effective means to collaborate with each other. Technology can provide access to the most appropriate tools, resources and services for a given situation.
Enabling more effective recording for social workers
Current tools are not enabling good practice and often become an additional burden to manage. Providing more flexible tools will enable more ownership of workers’ schedules and versatility in recording. This will reduce time spent on administration tasks and duplication of content.
Enabling stronger relationships around the family and child
New tech solutions can enable a stronger relationship between social workers, children and families preparing both workers and families for visits and engaging families by creating the opportunity for them to contribute to their story.
Aligning leaders and social workers on best practice recording
There can be space for ambiguity around the expectations of both local authority senior management and central government bodies. Technology could add clear guidance and best practice to provide social workers with the assurance to support children and families, knowing that statutory and internal reporting needs are being met.