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

A day in the life of a social worker

The Safeguarding 2.0 project has made a leap in the right direction in its work with social workers. We know that keeping children safe is high on everyone’s list, but it’s social workers, out there every day on the frontline of child protection in communities nationwide, whose views we must seek if we are to make real progress in safeguarding children and young people. We needed to hear and see at first hand what frustrations or stumbling blocks are faced by those with  one of the most difficult jobs in the world.

What do social workers want and need from the statutory organisations which charge them with keeping some of the most vulnerable safe from harm? What do they think would make a difference to their work? And what could they tell the project about using web technology effectively in safeguarding, for easily sharing key information and improving communication ? This is what ThinkPublic set out to research.

Westminster Council has been blazing the trail when it comes to working with technology. They currently use SharePoint to enable their social workers and their partners to share vital information on the children and young people they support. Safeguarding web 2.0 are learning from this and the locality team to take this even further.

With Westminster City Council backing the project, we were able to talk directly with their social workers who offered ThinkPublic some real food for thought with fascinating insights into what their working week truly involves. They highlighted the difficulties and problems of helping children in danger and dealing with families falling apart, but social workers’ obvious job satisfaction, commitment to vulnerable families and their clear determination to win the very best outcome for them in the face of mounting pressures, were all evident.

ThinkPublic’s Jess O’Keeffe set out on one of the most fascinating and important phases of the project – to record a day in the life of experienced and dedicated social worker Jeffrey. He invited Jess to shadow him and create a documentary film about his work, minute by minute, hour by hour and she created a series of revealing snapshots into the way things work for him.

Jeffrey laid to rest the myth that a ‘thick file’ is seen as demonstrating ‘seriousness’ – Jeffrey, and probably many others, finds such things off-putting and indigestible.  Everyone likes to think they will be praised for doing a good job and delivering quality. Jeffrey also talked about the importance of getting support and supervision in such a stressful job, particularly in view of the natural build-up of emotions in dealing with often painful situations. It’s a key factor for local authorities across the country that are struggling with shrinking budgets and increasing case loads, yet trying to ensure recruitment and retention of social workers.

Workload issues are well-known. The need to put things on record takes up time which could be spent working with families, a frustration for those who go into the job to work with people, including health visitors from across England who have talked to Jess about backlogs of semi-serious cases which could easily become more serious if left unattended because workers were constantly running hard just to stand still.

Social worker Jeffrey confessed to his main frustration being with ICS (the Integrated Children’s System) because it treated him and his colleagues as if they were ‘stupid’. It was seen as patronising and an insult to their rigorous professional training because it enforced a particular model of practice by embedding it in software – not trusting them to record what was important and use their common sense.

Jeffrey wasn’t the only professional with strong views captured on film. A GP said he didn’t have time to attend meetings and that, anyway, the law prevented him giving information on patients. A health visitor felt too much responsibility was being given to those who did not have the training to cope, while midwives talked about relying on faxes to make referrals while admitting the information was sometimes delayed because the machines didn’t work. There was frustration across the board over computer glitches.

After a day with Jeffrey, it was clear that if one thing could make things better for him, it would be having fewer cases so he could do more good for those he was working on. “Being with him was a real eye-opener for me”, said Jess. “People like Jeffrey have so much stress in their job it made me think how difficult it is for them working under pressure with extremely vulnerable people on top of the restrictions of how the job is organised.”

The film will be shown as part of a multi-media presentation at the first-phase round-up meeting of Safeguarding 2.0 alongside work by team partners Headshift whose Amy Wagner and Felix Cohen are leading on the use of web technology in collective, and effective, intelligence gathering within social work.

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.