How interoperability can realise the vision of the 'children's manifesto'

Richard Betts, Servelec
Tuesday, October 22, 2019

When Anne Longfield, Children's Commissioner for England, released her "children's manifesto" last month, she unveiled a vision of schools as multi-agency hubs, where extended use of school facilities at evenings and weekends would enable youth activities like drama, sport and arts to be delivered by youth clubs providing huge benefits for young people and their families.

Longfield also argued that security in schools and neighbourhoods should be a priority for any government to support child activity and play. She recommended adding a counsellor to every school to help address the rise in child mental health issues, alongside additional funding for special educational needs.

The catalyst for the manifesto is in the statistics:

  • 1 million children need mental health support
  • 120,000 are homeless and in temporary accommodation
  • 50,000 are missing education
  • 30,000 are in violent gangs

Combine these numbers with the Children's Commissioner's observations on MPs' priorities: "I've heard more political conversation about HS2, water nationalisation and tax cuts - and, of course, Brexit, than about children," and you can see why a fundamental shift is desperately needed.

The manifesto calls for political backing of six pledges: supporting stronger families, providing places for children to live, helping children to have healthy minds, keeping children active, providing SEND support for those who need it, and creating safer streets and play areas. The next step is to look at how we are going to make these pledges happen.

Technology will have a crucial role to play - and with the work of education, youth services, social care and healthcare teams intertwined, interoperability between IT systems is going to be key.

At an operational level, there is a clear need to bring together the different pieces of the complex jigsaw in local government, so that data flows between systems, improving outcomes for young people and their families. So how can this be achieved?

No more information silos

The Children's Commissioner pledges a continued effort to support troubled families. Many families' problems aren't serious enough to be dealt with immediately by police or social services, and the lower-tier services that should support them are highly inconsistent because the responsibility is split between councils and health services.

Using systems that enable a joined-up view of information will ensure that families in need are visible. By linking data on risk indicators, family support services can get involved before families reach 'crisis' point.

Servelec's Conexes is a cloud-based interoperability platform that provides local authorities and health trusts with this capability. It ensures a safe, secure environment to share data between various systems and mobile apps to deliver an integrated approach to care for children and families across education, youth services, social care and health teams.

Supporting SEND

Providing special educational needs and disability (SEND) support for those who need it, is another pledge. SEND reforms from five years ago were well intended but poorly funded and implemented.

Synergy, Servelec's education system, has solutions to manage the Education, Health and Care Plan assessment process, the directory of local services for children and families, school admissions, and pupil inclusion - helping with demand management and ensuring that the right services are provided at the right time.

The manifesto also pushes for a dedicated counsellor in every school. With child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) in place, you can address mental health issues at source. Interoperable systems can pull together information from education, social care, youth services and health to provide more streamlined and accurate delivery of CAMHS services in education.

Proactive tracking of participation

Longfield also highlights the need for more resource to be directed at building parks and recreational spaces covered by CCTV. There has been a significant reduction in children playing in the streets or in parks since the 1970s, as gangs openly operate in these spaces. In parallel, there is talk of a generation of 'battery children' - those increasingly reliant on technology and social media to entertain.

The report proposes extending the opening hours of children's centres and schools to provide a range of youth activities and extended curriculum of arts subjects. The cost of this must not come from school budgets or parents, but be pooled from other areas.

New funding is also needed to provide high-quality clubs, training and support for children and young people; a mix of voluntary, public and private provision. An Integrated Youth Support system, such as Servelec's Core+, could be used to manage youth activities at schools and monitor reach and participation.
Vision to reality

Getting cross-party political buy-in, pooling budgets across departments, the sharing of information between disparate agencies, and the adoption of new integrated care models will be central in making this vision a reality.

We must see technology as the enabler - and adopt the interoperability of best of breed solutions in each area - if we are to deliver against these ambitious but crucial pledges.

  • Richard Betts is Managing Director of Local Government at Servelec

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