The Future is….? Reporting back on part one of Safeguarding 2.0

**UPDATE**

Here’s a short video of the presentations from our recent event, which covers our findings, our ideas for improving safeguarding using web technology and our next steps. This video tells the story of our project from the seed of the idea to the design of a web tool that can make better use of data, give children and their families a voice, and enhance the offline relationships between all of those involved in keeping a child safe.

We’re now looking for a local authority partner to work with us in the next phase of the project which is about prototyping and testing the tool. If you’re interested, do get in touch to find out more about the next phase: carrie [at] wearefuturegov [dot] com

Safeguarding 2.0 from Arun Marsh on Vimeo.

Here are a slightly trimmed down version of the slides presented at this session, recently shown at NESTA’s Reboot Britain 2010 event:

After the event we spoke to some of the attendees to get their thoughts on what they’d heard and what the future might hold…

Last week it was a packed meeting of partners, professionals and those widely involved in safeguarding who gathered at NESTA at the end of the project’s first phase to hear the final reports and listen to Dominic Campbell of lead partner Futuregov uncharacteristically describe himself as nervous.

“I guess it’s an indication of how important this project is to me,” said Dominic who kicked off the project close to his heart which was  born out of frustration in the  wake of Baby P. “To try to help people on the front line do things differently,” he admitted. “How do you put a safety net in place? That is one of the major challenges. Was there a  technological solution?”

He described the conclusion of some pretty impressive research and original thinking as “fairly modest. We have dipped a toe in the water, listened to what is in people’s heads and focussed their minds on this problem.”  Most of all, he and project lead Carrie Bishop believed there had to be a ‘Next Phase’  building on research by thinkpublic and a tool envisaged by technology partner Headshift which would need a local government partner and financial investment. “But for now go away and spread the word and let us have your feedback,” said Dominic.

There was an air of real anticipation in the room as Headshift’s Felix Cohen and Amy Wagner got down to the heart of the matter – what might work for professionals in the light of  frontline research gathered from social workers by thinkpublic. It was introduced by Carrie as “A solution – not a silver bullet.”  Amy said what was important was to provide a simple way to access data, perhaps a collection of small tools. “Think Big and Build Small,” should be the slogan for technology which allowed information to surface and be identified easily. The initial preferred suggestion was a kind of application for a mobile which would be easy to get out of your pocket and make information easier to understand and share. “What excites me is if we can get a mobile platform,” said Amy while Felix said it would offer a non-adversarial relationship between social worker and client. “It then becomes a much more powerful tool for change.”

Which all followed on neatly from a presentation by Ian Drysdale and Jess O’Keeffe of ThinkPublic that presented the results of their research from professionals on the front line of safeguarding and illustrated it with a telling video of the time Jess spent filming a day in the life of Westminster Council social worker Jeffrey as he met some of the vulnerable families under his care in what has to be one of the most difficult, pressurised, frustrating and ultimately most rewarding jobs in the world. The presentation by Ian revealed some revealing information including the statistic that most social work teams in England are operating at  a 60% staffing level with vacancy rates as high as 30%. “A revolving door,” was how Jeffrey put it. He was looking for smaller case loads so that he could feel he was really doing everything he wanted in a job which despite the hardships he described as “incredibly rewarding.”  He emphasised it was the time allowed to build a relationship between the individual and the social worker which really mattered in the drive to bring security. On the other hand, he said the safeguarding agencies’  inability to share information really drove him nuts.

The question which bothered him was how powerless and paranoid a client can feel when even if they are given access to their file to promote trust, sections are blacked out. How can technology empower them and how can it cut down on the overloading of professionals by ridding them of  pedantic systems which they feel do not allow them to think for themselves and cut down on the vital face to face work?

ThinkPublic’s research pointed to a cut in  IT overload by developing technical priorities so as not to create vast data cemeteries. “Social work has evolved and the technology hasn’t,” said Jasmine Ali from project partner the Local Government Information Unit. “We will have to do more with less when cuts are inevitable.”

Julie Pappacoda, head of Integrated Children’s Information Systems at Westminster Council which was on board  from the start of the project facilitating research from its social work frontline, put the vast IT problem (there are 50 stand-alone systems)  into perspective and said the partnership between social work and technology had never been easy.  While many people put this down to a stubborn resistance to technology, she explained that in fact social workers have been disappointed by bad technology design in the past but are still keen to see tools that will make their jobs easier.  She encouraged;  “How do you eat an elephant? In bite-size pieces.”

Safeguarding 2.0 has taken the first bite – and looks forward to the next.

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