Local authorities are coming under increasing pressure to improve efficiency as social care targets are continuously undermined by high profile breaches in child protection. The tragic death of Baby P in 2007, and more recently, Daniel Pelka, has shown that child protection issues, like most aspects of social work, are complex, multi layered, and highly challenging. In the case of Daniel Pelka, an independent report by the Coventry Safeguarding Children Board found that his death was caused by, among other things, delays in information being shared by health professionals, school staff and social workers.
While these social care failings tend to develop as a result of poor cross agency communication, what must be recognised is that there is an endless amount of information which could be deemed relevant to individual cases. This results in a bewildering array of conflicting observations for staff to process. Clearly then, ease of access to data is key in determining the success of social workers.
The Troubled Families programme, introduced by the Department for Communities and Local Government in 2011, was set up to provide expert support to local authorities and raise standards in social care. The programme came as a result of data which estimated that £9 billion is spent annually on 120,000 troubled families in England. Of this, an estimated £8 billion is spent reacting to the problems these families both have and cause, whilst just £1 billion is proactively spent on helping families solve and prevent problems in the longer term.
The programme aims to redress this imbalance through a more joined up approach to social care, as local authorities are now being encouraged to deal with a family’s problems as a whole. This should see authorities focussing on issues such as school attendance and parental employment which contribute to the bigger picture of a family’s wellbeing. The change in approach comes after a Government report admitted “that the traditional approach of services reaching individual family members, at crisis point or after, and trying to fix single issues such as ‘drug use’, ‘non-attendance at school’ or ‘domestic violence’ in these families is most often destined to fail”.
The programme should be beneficial to social workers through increased levels of cross agency transparency. Along with budget increases for local authorities on a payment-by-results basis, an adapted approach could provide long term solutions for England’s troubled families. A more general issue facing Public Sector social care is that in the next 20 years, the percentage of people over 85 will double. This means there are likely to be more people with complex health needs who require a combination of health and social care services.
What’s needed then, is an integrated information technology approach which will enable social care staff to access and interpret relevant data in a timely manner. The importance of effectively joining up local services and providing a broad yet concise view of a family’s problems can’t be overstated. Public sector organisations are under pressure to meet the demands of both austerity measures and much needed service improvements. As such the utilisation of Business Intelligence tools can make key information available to the people who can make a difference.