Taking a step into the future – the end of the beginning

Safeguarding 2.0 – Invitation to a Milestone Event

When: 18 May (9am – 12pm)
Where: NESTA, 1 Plough Place, London. EC4A 1DE

The Safeguarding 2.0 project is now at the end of its first phase.  What started as a round-table discussion at the Local Government Information Unit with practitioners and social web enthusiasts has developed into a journey that has uncovered the technological and behavioural challenges facing safeguarding professionals.  We formed a project team withThinkPublic and Headshift, funded by Nesta and ECDP, and working in partnership Westminster City Council. Our research has led us to some important conclusions about ways to help all those involved in safeguarding children, which the project team is excited to share with you.

As well as presenting the findings of the first phase of the project there will be plenty of discussion throughout, along with a chance to talk about the next phase of the project and opportunities for getting involved.

We hope to see you there – please let us know if you can make it by emailing carrie [dot] bishop [at] futuregovconsultancy [dot] com

WHEN we hosted a round table discussion last August on how web technology might offer new and more effective ways to safeguard vulnerable children,  it would have taken a brave person to stand up and say ‘I know where this is going.’  The truth is no-one at that initial Safeguarding 2.0 meeting did know where the project might lead or what inspiration it might produce.

That was the challenge facing a committed team of passionate people determined to take an exploratory step into the unknown in a bid to discover if new technology could reap real benefits for beleaguered social workers struggling to make the world a safer place for kids.

It was a massive ask and without real enthusiasm from the whole Safeguarding project team, might never have got off the ground. For a start at that first meeting, Futuregov and team partners thinkpublic, Headshift, the Local Government Information Unit, and Westminster Council moved forward without even the assurance that technology could or would offer any sort of an answer. The solution, we freely admitted, might be something entirely different.

But as the project progressed, with particular thanks to the in-depth research of thinkpublic who listened and talked to social workers and other professionals,  it became clear that some sort of technology to help everyone involved in a safeguarding team to communicate better was the way ahead. Especially if it enabled the whole story of a child to be more easily recorded and heard and – vitally – acted upon.

Now in a relatively short time, the first phase of the initial project sparked by Safeguarding 2.0 is nearing its final stages and the ideas, thoughts and plans are being pulled together to formulate what imaginative piece of technology could help those struggling against a backdrop of one high profile tragedy after another to cope with the increasingly heavy burden of safeguarding children.  The team’s findings will be presented at an event on 18 May at Nesta, to which all are welcome, which will show what we’ve learned and what we think could help safeguarding practitioners.

What the project has been determined to do is not to foist any new piece of technology on social workers. The real aim has always been to discover what they need and want as well as asking what they believe are the gaps in their present armoury which need plugging. In other words, the technologists at Headshift needed to know what they produced was not only needed, but wanted too.

With the first phase nearing completion, the project team can see that a second phase is viable. The project inevitably has only scratched the surface of providing better communication in what has to be one of the most desperately difficult problems to solve. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, is the often-quoted slogan. But in the light of social services departments such as Birmingham’s being judged ‘unfit for purpose‘, there is no room to judge that something, somewhere doesn’t need fixing. So phase one of Safeguarding 2.0 is merely a step along the way to offer web technology as a tool to prevent mistakes and ultimately save lives.

The challenge of phase two will be for the project team to develop an innovative prototype – but that as everyone knows will need funding from not only a local authority with a stake in the outcome, but from grants and perhaps a partnership with a technology provider like a mobile phone manufacturer.

It only remains at this first-step stage at the end of the beginning for the project team to make its final report pointing up the exciting possibilities ahead. One small step for safeguarding… but a small step leading to a future of endless possibilities.

Photo: tymesynk on Flickr

Safeguarding 2.0 – the story so far

Round the meeting table

WHEN it comes to meetings, there are (yawn) meetings – and then there are (Ooh!) meetings. The session at the LGiU on Friday at the half way stage of Safeguarding 2.0 turned out to be one of those rare inspirational MEETINGS worthy of big, bold capital letters. Everyone round the table agreed  the gathering to review the project’s progress  was buzzing loudly with hope and enthusiasm.

Right from the start, ideas bounced off the walls faster than Andy Murray’s blockbuster serves and there was some passionate pulling and tugging across the table over the aims and achievements of the project’s ambition to find potential solutions on how to better protect vulnerable children using the power of the web.

The discussion threw up plenty of debate on what had gone before and provided some fascinating paths for the project to explore in the weeks ahead. That included a novel idea from blogger Johnnie Moore who suggested unpicking the complicated organisation and intricate thinking behind something as fascinating and unrelated as a Formula One race team might throw up a  winning chequered flag solution to cut through the “horrible regulation” surrounding social work!  Could it be that the more we have tried to put things right in safeguarding, the more we have created confusion? So taking everything back-to-basics might indeed be the Holy Grail for social workers desperate to spend time with needy families, but  sinking under the burden of forms, systems and tick boxes?

Blogger and school governor Matthew Rees was moved in a post-meeting blog post, to gleefully report that this was one of the best meetings he had been to in many a year. Undeniably what came across loud and clear  from the Safeguarding 2.0 research is that social workers have a massive workload and a palpable fear of anything from outside which could compromise confidentiality and damage relationships with their clients. The feedback too from professionals already mistrustful of technology was that the job was busy enough and they “really didn’t need another ‘gadget’ to work with.”

That was the quandry everyone at the meeting was left to ponder. What piece of technology would, could, should make a difference to ensuring Baby Peter failings never happen? Or as FutureGov’s Dominic Campbell admitted, would the project discover the real solution was no piece of technology at all?

The Safeguarding 2.0 project does take one firm standpoint though. It is important when tragedies happen we never shrug our shoulders and think nothing can be done because the problem is too huge.

Given that firm foothold, the halfway report from project leader Carrie Bishop of FutureGov clearly laid out the story so far on how Safeguarding 2.0 is working to discover what, if any,  web technology can help join up the vital dots to help complete the whole revealing picture of a  vulnerable child’s life in a vulnerable family and so prevent another Baby Peter tragedy.

She emphasised that from the very beginning it was felt the project could throw up  everything – or nothing. That was the challenge at the start-up meeting which sparked huge enthusiasm. Since then FutureGov has gathered together a committed team from the LGiU, Think Public, Headshift and Barnardo’s which undaunted by the mammoth task ahead,  moved the project forward to take a step into the unknown in a bid to  uncover the problems facing professionals and families and build possible solutions.

The project began mid-January with key to the work being the co-operation of  social workers which team member Thinkpublic researchers knew was vital in their bid to build a clear picture of their hectic working day and what innovative piece of technology might contribute to making it click better and more efficiently into place.

So herograms and thanks all round at this point to everyone in Westminster City Council who have come on board to share their thoughts and help the project understand the work challenges they face every day.  It became clear at an early stage that the  social workers Thinkpublic researchers  talked to believe confidentiality is paramount in their work. Those of us not involved with such  acutely sensitive work might be forgiven for believing when professionals seal a  case conference room  to the extent of covering over a glass door panel to protect intimate  information projected onto a wall, we are moving into the realms of  Spooks. Also, surely it is a measure of how technology is regarded as ‘unsafe’ that faxes and paper files are considered okay, but email information and the like are seen as easy to penetrate.  Perhaps too, a  bunker mentality is inevitable among social workers who fear the ever-present glare of public criticism particularly from a tabloid press rushing to blame in the aftermath of failings like Baby Peter.

The mistrust of technology and outside agencies turned into one of  the truly fascinating debates at the meeting with Thinkpublic‘s Ian Drysdale admitting it was taking time to win the trust of busy professionals. He had hoped to show a film of a day in the life of a social worker, but time and opportunity had proved elusive. But as the LGiU‘s   Jasmine Ali encouragingly pointed out, the problems were not insurmountable as the growing co-operation with Westminster Council proved.

Ian Drysdale presenting

Matthew Rees said social workers were proving to be afraid of “something which isn’t happening” when it came to stolen data captured by technology.  He believed the initial challenge faced by Safeguarding 2.0 was to discover how social workers could share “day-to-day stuff” –  the low level intuitive feeling that something is wrong which when collated into a pattern, might  prove vital. “Almost the Twitter of passing on information,” he said.

Amy Wagner,  head of projects at team partner Headshift , saw the challenge as “how can we add to what is being done already. If something doesn’t make it onto the spreadsheet it is lost. Perhaps we can explore ways to catching that data?” That was echoed in three salient points by Carrie Bishop. One; that story-telling by social workers requires input. Two; easy visualisation of  data “more about making sense of the madness.” And three; how to capture low-level intelligence.

So what could be the answer? The halfway report recognises there may not be a definitive answer in a highly complex working environment of relationships and personalities. It also believes much more time is needed to build up trust with social workers to make testing any ‘tool’ smoother.

What would be the ideal at this stage seems to bes a mobile application which would support informal communication and provide visualisation of existing data.

So at the end of an exciting and productive meeting between team and partners, what are the next steps? Well, the project hopes to begin to scope a tool to be built and tested as part of a second phase while continuing to add to an important research base.

We’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas on the project so please get in touch if you’d like to be involved – leave us a comment or contact carrie [dot] bishop [at] futuregovconsultancy [dot] com

Meet the team: thinkpublic

team members

The Safeguarding 2.0 project is being delivered by a group of organisations that passionately believe in the power of the web to help improve public services.  FutureGov, the LGiU, thinkpublic, Headshift and Barnardo’s are all working together to see how this idea can be applied to the field of safeguarding, and over the next few weeks we’ll be introducing you to each organisation in turn.

In the early stages of Safeguarding 2.0, thinkpublic is deep into the groundwork of grassroots research. This essential work to find out what social workers need and want is being spearheaded by Ian Drysdale who’s already come up with some fascinating data thanks to co-operation from staff at Westminster City Council who have put aside their understandable and natural reticence to recount with utter honesty their views on what would make a real difference to their work in the field of child safeguarding.

Already some interesting shared facts have emerged which will be translated by Ian into a short film featuring a day in the life of a Westminster social worker, and that will be backed by a written report detailing the views expressed by his colleagues on what changes to formal and informal systems will help them do their job better. That will be presented next Friday at an eagerly awaited meeting of the whole team and interested parties.

So already the machine is moving. Slowly and carefully as it must, at first. The insights gained through thinkpublic’s work will be coupled with the expertise and inspiration of technology experts Headshift,  which we hope will lead to the bright spark of an idea of how social media  can be used as a tool to help social workers.

We’re keen to hear ideas and thoughts about our approach and work so far, as well as possible solutions so as ever please do post comments or email the project manager (carrie [dot] bishop [at] futuregovconsultancy [dot] com)

The tragic context

If we thought things couldn’t get much worse in the world of child protection after the nightmare high-profile death of Baby Peter, recent events in Doncaster have proved every hope to be very sadly misplaced.

Within months both professionals and the public came face to face with the reality of yet another tragedy – and this time it was a true-life horror story of child-on-child violence so terrible and shocking it rocked the nation’s faith in public safeguarding yet again.

The full facts of the tragedy unfolded in the High Court and centred on two young boys in the care of failing Doncaster Social Services who were placed for safety away from their seriously damaging home environment with foster carers who everyone now admits were plainly not equipped to deal with their challenging problems. That set the boys disastrously free at the heart of an solid and caring working class village community.

Within days the boys set about torturing and attacking two local youngsters with such violence that one was left within a heartbeat of death.

So in the wake of the court case with its evidence of mistakes, there has never been a better time for those who care to come together and try something entirely new in a inspirational bid to safeguard children from grassroots level upwards.

Step forward Safeguarding 2.0 – a project seeking to use the power of 21st century cutting-edge technology to find a new and hopeful answer to an old and heartbreaking problem. And that as everyone involved in child safeguarding will know, is not just a massive ask without any guarantee of an answer.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to discover if there is a new way and a better way and if we can make it work through the new technology tools at our fingertips.

The heart of the matter is how to get the jigsaw pieces of information which might just stop another child being hurt right there, at the right place, with the right person, at the very time a vital, life or death decision is made.

Can some safe piece of the web be found where social workers can park vital feelings and hunches to be accessed, mulled over and acted on? If you like a kind of modern day equivalent of the doorstep chatter which made sure a secret wasn’t a secret for long in olden-days neighbourhoods.

That’s the challenge facing us working with Safeguarding 2.0 to discover how web technology can provide those involved in keeping kids safe with effective new tools which will reap undreamed of rewards in the field of child protection.

The germ of the idea was sparked by FutureGov and we’re working with the Local Government Information Unit, Barnardo’s, Headshift and Think Public as a project team. Initally the aim is to research the needs of safeguarding practitioners, as well as service users, leading to an outline scope of a piece of technology that could be built to help all involved in keeping children safe.

We believe the web can help managers within local authority public services and their staff to meet the increased workload and support rather than burden their vital child protection work.

We want everyone to care passionately about this project and make it their own by chipping in with thoughts, encouragement, criticism and brilliant ideas. The truth is none of us know the complete answer as to how the future should be shaped so everyone involved in safeguarding youngsters is confident they are on the right track. But the tools are at our fingertips and offer a tantalising glimpse of what might be.

Let’s use them.

Safeguarding 2.0 wants to hear from you so that together we can find a new way to help those charged with protecting the Baby Peters of this world. Get involved. Tell us how to do it. Make a real difference to child protection.