If a child has started to exhibit poor attendance in their schooling or their behaviour is putting them at risk of exclusion, they will undoubtedly be struggling in their lessons and need some additional learning support from their teacher to get back on track.
But it might be that there are more serious issues within their home or family environment that are contributing to the difficulties they are experiencing. Could their household be under financial pressure because mum or dad has recently been made redundant? Is their school life being affected by a sibling who is getting involved with crime or a parent or close relative struggling with depression?
The negative impact of poor attendance or behaviour in school on outcomes for children is well documented. Having access to good sources of information from different agencies that are in contact with the people in a child's life could hold the key to targeting the right support at the earliest opportunity to address the issues they are facing.
To achieve a more accurate picture of a child's circumstances, councils must first identify their family connections and for some children, family ties can be incredibly complex. There are systems available that can collate existing information on the different individuals who are linked to a child - where they live, what relationship they have with the child and details of the support they are receiving from the different agencies they are in contact with - so that it can be viewed by all those that need it in one place.
There are some key advantages to this. Knowing that a child who has stopped coming to school has a sister who is about to become a teenage mum or has issues with drug abuse could be extremely useful to pastoral staff. It will help them to make more informed decisions on what action needs to be taken to support the child and prevent problems from escalating into more serious issues that could jeopardise their future achievement, i.e. targeted intervention.
Another area where data on families can add real value is in the difficult task of ensuring that increasingly limited public money and resources are invested where they will have the best chance of improving outcomes.
Some authorities already use tools that allow them to measure children's vulnerability to issues like poverty, crime and neglect. The parameters and criteria used in this process are set locally and can include data such as pupils' attendance or achievement in school.
By bringing information on the issues affecting a child's family in to the mix, a goldmine of data will be available to help councils target their resources where the greatest need lies. And crucially, the ability to measure vulnerability will help ensure that the impact of any services being provided can be monitored giving councils the vital evidence they need to show that they are improving lives.
But why wait until there are problems? This information can be used to support targeted prevention activity, avoiding unnecessary strain on the child's development by acting before a problem arises. As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure.
This article previously appeared as a blog on the Children & Young People Now website in August 2011.