Agile software for an agile sector….the story of ICT in Children's Social Care

By Ida Cohen, consultant, Liquid Logic

| 15 August 2016

When I started working for the London Borough of Islington in 2006, one of my first major projects was to implement the Integrated Children's System (ICS).

Liquidlogic break dancer

It has been 10 years since I started on this journey and I have been looking back and reflecting on the past and what lies ahead, in what I believe is becoming an ever more important relationship between practice and ICT.  

At the start there wasn't much room for creativity in designing a system, the then Department of Children, Schools and Families had already worked it all out in great detail with reams of system workflow designs and forms and templates - all Local Authorities needed to do was to choose a supplier.

ICS Expert Panel

In 2010, I was selected as a member of the Department for Education's ICS Expert Panel. The Panel was set up to review how ICS was working for Local Authorities, as it had begun to emerge that all was not well. The idea that a whole system configuration determined at Central Government level would work for every Local Authority was causing frustration on the ground.  Whilst all authorities work within the same regulatory framework, how they do this is very much locally defined. Practice should inform ICT and not the other way around. Practitioners were being driven to work in specific ways because of the configuration of their IT system.

In 2011, Professor Eileen Munro published her Review of Child Protection and recommended that the Government should "remove constraints to local innovation and professional judgment that are created by prescribing or endorsing particular approaches, for example, nationally designed assessment forms, national performance indicators associated with assessment or nationally prescribed approaches to IT systems".

The government accepted that recommendation and a new phase of ICS began.  As a social care manager at Islington, we quickly started to work with Liquidlogic to rethink areas of the system and functionality that would make the product work better for social workers.  

The sheer delight on the faces of social workers when they were suddenly able to work on multiple siblings throughout the care pathways (family working) was an absolute joy to see.  At the same time, we were given more and more configuration options around our care pathway maintenance, so that we could configure how things worked for us locally.  

This included removing elements or bringing in new ones, but also the ability to redesign all of our templates with no need for Liquidlogic to get involved. Up popped a myriad of enthusiastic groups of staff who all wanted to contribute to redesigning their forms and reviewing their particular pathways, so they would reflect and support their practice.  

However two major factors continue to play a significant role in influencing the design.  Firstly, the requirement for social care data and key social work interventions (pathways) to be measured for the purpose of statutory or inspection-related returns.  Secondly, the ability to use it to evidence best practice and good outcomes for children and families for when Ofsted comes to inspect.  

Innovation Programme

On 7th July 2014, I was at the Children's Social Care Innovation Programme Summit in Camden, when Edward Timpson MP announced the launch of the DfE Children's Social Care Innovation Programme, and it struck me that we have seen many of our customers adapt their Liquidlogic systems even further to fit with new models of social work interventions.

Speaking about this flexibility, Julie Savill-Fell, Assistant Programme Director (Operational Delivery), Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council says: "I have configured Liquidlogic to support three local authorities using the Signs of Safety model of social work practice now and in Luton they use it live on screen at their child protection conferences."

Another example of where the Liquidlogic Workflow builder has been used is at the London Borough of Islington. The PAUSE initiative is being rolled out across a number of authorities, including Islington, as part of the Innovation Programme.  

PAUSE works intensively with mothers who have had multiple children removed from their care.  When Islington decided to pilot this intervention, the team needed a case recording solution. Islington chose Liquidlogic's Workflow builder within its children's social care solution because all the demographic information about the mothers and their history of social care involvement was already there.

Ben Pope, ICT Programme Manager (Early Help & Social Care) at the London Borough of Islington comments: "We used one of the pre-defined templates to create the workflow in Liquidlogic. We changed the names of the tasks according to the social worker's requirements. We were also able to define who the task is allocated to and who needs to authorise it. Using the customer-defined workflow has enabled the PAUSE team to use a system designed according to their needs, that stores information in a structured way and collects the data they need to produce to monitor their effectiveness."

Then and now

In many ways, things were much simpler in the early days. Government outlined the specification, Liquidlogic built it and local authorities implemented it. Now we see our customers configuring the system themselves or working with us to design yet more new functionality. Add into this mix the rapid pace of technology development and the changing expectations of not only the children's social care workforce but also of our children and young people and the current environment is an agile one indeed! Who would have thought 10 years ago that social workers would be out there using tablet devices with an app version of their Liquidlogic product or that children and families are now getting connected and interacting with their social workers online via our portal solution?

Liquidlogic's radar charts help customers to measure outcomes by child or family and to visualise progress; and we have utilised system data from across our different solutions to bring together key information about a whole family at a glance through our interactive Atom functionality.

At two events in the autumn, a variety of Liquidlogic customers will speak about projects which specifically target areas that are a key focus of Ofsted inspections. In addition, Liquidlogic's new EYES product will be launched. This addresses the education management side of a council's responsibilities and provides the opportunity for one integrated system across children's services. We are already beginning to see councils come out to tender for a single system in this way. Speakers include Sir Bob Geldof, Jacky Tiotto, Director of Children's Services at Bexley and Sue Williams, Director of Family Safeguarding at Hertfordshire, which has been a major beneficiary of the DfE Innovation Fund.

To register for one of these events, visit www.liquidlogic.co.uk/events.

Ida Cohen recently joined Liquidlogic as a Senior Consultant. She is social worker and has extensive experience of managing children's social care services, including business support services and ICT.

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