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Hertfordshire develops e-workbook for children's social care



County works on care software in service redesign as part of Innovation Programme

Hertfordshire County Council has launched the first project under the Children's Social Care Innovation Programme to place a strong emphasis on an IT solution.

It is using part of a £4.86 million grant from the fund to develop an e-workbook software programme to support a redesign of its approach to child social care.

The council and supplier Liquid Logic began to develop the e-workbooks in January. Sue Williams (pictured), director of family safeguarding at Hertfordshire, said the partnership hopes to have a working model by March and begin using it in May. Its performance will be evaluated over the next 18 months to two years by the University of Bedford.

The effort reflects the emphasis, expressed by the programme's chair Clive Cowdery, on using the fund to redesign services. Others highlighted by the Spring Consortium, which is delivering the programme, involve transformations without the emphasis on new IT provision.

The project is being run as part of the government's effort, in the wake of the Munro review of child protection, to cut down on the bureaucracy in children's social care, allowing social workers to spend more time with the families of children who might be at risk.

Hertfordshire's proposal to the Innovation Fund had four main features:

  • developing multi-agency teams of children's social workers and specialists in mental health, domestic violence and drug and alcohol abuse;
  • making interviews with families less adversarial, so they are encouraged to evaluate themselves;
  • developing an e-workbook software package, to run on tablet computers, that will replace the current system of case notes, chronologies and reports;
  • working with other agencies, such as police, the Probation Service and the NHS, to compile data that is more focused on outcomes for children than on how much time social workers spent on specific tasks.

Hertfordshire has begun to develop the e-workbook with social care software specialist Liquid Logic. Williams said the software needs to record hundreds of items, but that they are looking at how it can be structured to bring in data from other agencies, provide everything needed by the Integrated Children's System, and focus more on the outcomes. This will include factors such as visits to GPs and hospital A&E departments, and how children are performing and socialising with others at school.

Williams says this would all be collected with the parents' consent, but could be done without it if a child is believed to be at a high risk.

"It's a different way of recording the information, so we can better tell the story of what we have done and why," she says. "It's aimed at providing a better analysis of factors such as family strengths and risks, and we estimate that we should be able to reduce the recording requirements by at least a third and maybe a half.

"We think it would also produce better evidence and help to make more sense of the reports for magistrates and judges.

"To our knowledge that isn't being done by anyone else in the country, and if we can develop the e-workbook to the requirements and the DfE is happy, it can be picked up by any other council that wants to use it."

One early element of the project will be to establish whether the software works best on Windows, Android or iOS. Ideally it would be compatible with all three, but if there are differences it would influence the choice of devices issued to social workers.

Hertfordshire is also planning to train social workers in new ways of interviewing families and conducting and recording risk assessments.

Pictured: Sue Williams | photo courtesy of Hertfordshire County Council.

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