On Tuesday, Professor Eileen Munro published the interim report of her Independent Children Protection Review titled The Child’s Journey. There’s a clear message within her report: social workers are spending too much time on paperwork and focusing on managerial targets and not enough time on the important work of developing relationships with the children and families they are there to help.
Mounting paperwork – Photo courtesy of Luxomedia
I’m really pleased to see how the report takes a holistic, child-centred approach to assessing the children’s services. I’m also excited to see it places an importance on relationships (especially after my blog post earlier this week). There’s a lot more to this interim review however I’ve highlighted two significant insights that I think are relevant to Safeguarding 2.0:
1. Children must have a space to share their stories
“Maltreatment rarely presents with a clear, unequivocal picture. In general, it is the totality of information, the overall pattern of the child’s story, that raises suspicions of possible abuse or neglect.” para. 2.12
The report recognises that for a social worker to truly understand a child’s current situation and how they can help they must understand the context of their story and their family history. This rings true with what we’ve been hearing throughout Safeguarding 2.0. In phase one of the project, Jeffrey lamented how he wished for a computer system that provided a space for him to simply write the child’s story. More recently, here in Lichfield, I’ve observed how the various multi-agency meetings act as an effective way for professionals to share their various views of a case, and to construct a deeper understanding of the narrative and context of the child.
The report goes further, advocating that children should be able to share their story and vision on their own terms, which is something I whole-heartedly agree with. Munro is forward thinking when it comes to ICT, making a case that future products should make full use of media:
“Digital stories and photographs, for example, could be embedded in the child’s record providing additional and meaningful information to the child and significantly improving upon what is available with paper documents.” para. 4.29
When conducting research and interviews, I often use timelines and family trees to help capture and illustrate the story I’m hearing. They’re useful as they offer the opportunity to check back with the respondent that I’ve captured the story correctly, and also as acting as a prompt to go deeper into a particular period of time or relatoinship. I’m sure exercises like this would prove a valuable way to involve children and young people in recording their stories, and ICT should make this a simple, delightful experience.
2. The system must take (and support) a multiagency approach
By now the idea of a multiagency approach to child welfare is pretty much ubiquitous. However, it also goes without saying that there are still significant barriers to achieving this.
In last months workshops I wasn’t surprised to hear how front line staff are not always aware of each others’ services and roles. Specifically we heard about how useful it was for a professional to know someone, personally, within an organisation, as these relationships helped keep them up to date with the changing landscape of services and provision.
The review backs this up, stating:
“Evidence provided to this review also shows the mixed experiences and absence of consensus about how well professionals are understanding one another’s roles and working together. This emphasises the importance of thoughtfully designed local agreements between professionals about how best to communicate with each other about their work with a family, and supporting those conversations with a locally agreed format for recording the needs of a family and the action and help that will be provided.” para. 2.23
The above recommendation is reassuring, as the Lichfield Strategic Partnership are running the Supporting Families Project to do just that: develop local agreements between the professionals on how they can work together, with the more complex families in the district to better help them. And this is where I think our product has the opportunity to really add value. The review goes on to recognise that a common factor to local authorities that have successfully adopted multi-agency models “has been the creation of channels through which practitioners from different agencies can discuss their concerns, either in a meeting room or simply over the telephone. The value of these informal but strategic conversations is that they enable professionals to exchange ideas without needing to enter formal proceedings. It is these informal relationships between different types of expert which the review holds to be crucial to improving early year help para. 2.42.”
Now this is where I think technology can really help. It could provide a really easy way to identify who is currently working with a child, their role, and how they can be contacted. I’m not talking about a huge, mega-database (read Contact Point) but rather a simple way for a child to consent to a professional sharing the fact they are in touch, and therefore creating an easy way for child, family and professional to see who exactly is in the team around the child.
There will be more on this soon, as we start to sketch up how a product can work in practice, but in the mean time I’d encourage you to have a read of the interim review.