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Pulling together data from a range of sources and improving its quality can be a life saver in social services, writes Helena Zaum, business development director at Sentinel Partners

Helena Zaum, Sentinel PartnersProtecting people from harm, even saving lives, is the major driving force behind the sharing of data in social care. It provides the potential of identifying people at risk, supplies key information on individual cases and enables interventions that can keep adults and children safe.

But it involves major challenges in pulling together data from a range of organisations, not all of which are obvious sources, ensuring its good quality and providing the governance for the handling of sensitive information.

There is more scope for sharing than in the past. The existing legal framework under the Digital Economy Act 2017 provides gateways for sharing some data on individuals when the purpose is for safeguarding, and there are technology solutions that can take in and match data to support social care professionals in making crucial decisions.

Information and insights

Sentinel Partners is at the forefront of the trend, having developed the Sentinel Platform that can provide social care teams with crucial information and insights from across the ecosystem of relevant data.

It makes it possible to take in data of any kind, structured and unstructured, from a range of sources, then apply a rules based system to automatically clean, validate and match the data, with the user deciding on the appropriate extent of automation for a specific task.

Important features of the platform are its ability to help users ensure an individual identified on different sources is the same person, and send updated data back to the sources to improve its quality all around. It also creates a ‘golden record’ for each individual – the most trusted data from each source system. A chronology can be produced for each individual, tracking interventions and events drawn from the different data sources.

This can then be used in activities such as pulling together details of families and other people involved with a vulnerable child, or the people providing care for an older person. This helps the users to target interventions and shape them to ensure they are more effective.

The system also allows for the use of reporting tools such as PowerBI to produce reports, and sharing data through a portal according to any data sharing agreements and Data Protection Impact Assessments (DPIAs) undertaken with partner organisations.

Ecosystem view

Overall, this can provide a more detailed view of a child or older person from a data ecosystem that can include social care, healthcare, schools, police and youth justice, and relevant information on the household such as financial problems or domestic violence.

It is an elastic data platform that can be used to meet many priorities, with broad outcomes including better visibility of individuals, better collaboration between agencies, making it easier to comply with governance demands and providing data for inspections.

There are plenty of possibilities for its use in healthcare, such as coordinating hospital discharge, adult social care, identifying unpaid carers, and children’s services, supporting multi-agency safeguarding hubs and predicting perpetrators of domestic abuse.

Dan Taylor, Birmingham Children's TrustOne of the organisations to have realised benefits from the Sentinel Platform is Birmingham Children’s Trust, the provider of children’s services for the city council. Daniel Taylor, its Supporting Families programme manager, described to the recent UKAuthority Integrating Digital Health and Care 2024 conference how the platform had been used to identify areas of concern affecting children, such as family financial problems, anti-social behaviour and crime, domestic abuse and attendance at schools.

The team has been using the platform for some time to understand patterns and support its view of which families have had significant and sustained outcomes, as well as to identify the service or organisation that has supported them.

Over the course of the Supporting Families programme the platform's ability to reconcile and promote data from disparate case reporting systems has helped show that familiar domestic and emotional abuse thought to be present in one third of referrals was in fact found in two-thirds of families worked with for more than three months.

Longitudinal view

“What you have is a longitudinal view that allows you to identify some of these things,” Taylor said, adding that it enables a social care team to point out the connections to partners and ask if they are taking the appropriate action.

He identified a number of broad benefits for the trust: providing evidence on interventions and improved outcomes for children and families; supporting a more joined up approach to delivering the services; better multi-agency coordination; and improved data quality and insights.

“One of the drivers in the use of data is the moral imperative to make people’s lives better where they’re facing a particular challenge,” Taylor said. “It’s been an aid to us, using data effectively through Sentinel, triangulating what we think we know is helpful, and telling us what we should know is really valuable.”

He added that the trust is now working with Sentinel to take data from the Birmingham Observatory, the city council’s open data platform, to “overlay some of what the city knows”. Triangulating the data with its own could provide fresh insights in areas such as ‘coincidence of need’. An example could be in overlaying indices of deprivation with data from family hubs and on clean air to understand the relationships and feed it into any relevant action.

His lessons for obtaining integrated data insights were to start small, with the outcome in mind, and build over time, engage early with information governance teams, do not underestimated the level of business and cultural change needed, and be prepared for changes in practice as new insights emerge.

Asset for AI

The Sentinel Platform also provides a great asset in preparing an organisation to harness the potential of AI technologies. There is a wide understanding that any efforts in the field would be undermined by using bad data, but a platform such as Sentinel's can be used to provide a big improvement in data quality, which in turn will ensure the safety of future services in which AI plays a prominent role.

We believe that in terms of outcomes our system helps organisations to get much better visibility of what is happening to individuals, and enables them to get in early and prevent problems becoming crises. There are cases in which it can literally be a life saver, which makes it a great foundational asset for any organisation involved in safeguarding.

To further explore the possibilities of the Sentinel Platform click here or you can contact me at [email protected]. Follow us on X at @sentinelpartner and on LinkedIn.   

Catch up now with Sentinel and Birmingham Children's Trust presentation from Integrating Digital Health & Care 2024




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