According to the latest report from the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), around 2.3 million initial contacts were made to children’s social care in 2013/14.
That is reportedly a 12% increase on the previous year and a 65% rise since 2007/08. As the number of children and families in crisis continues to grow, more and more authorities are looking at how their needs will be met in the years ahead.
The essential early help thread
Early help programmes are essential for preventing family difficulties from escalating to something more serious. The ultimate aim is to reduce the need for authorities to step up the level of support required which, in turn, should see fewer children being placed in care.
However, for some vulnerable children moving into care, even temporarily, can be the only option for keeping them safe. In these situations, the goal is to put measures in place that will enable them to leave the care system at an appropriate time and enjoy a happier, healthier life.
For social workers, this process of stepping up and stepping down is rarely as straightforward as I have described. There may be many teams involved and many decisions to make along the way. So, is there a part technology can play in making the process simpler and more efficient?
Assessing children at risk can sometimes seem like a long-winded and frustrating experience for children and families. They might find themselves giving one team all the information they need about their background and circumstances only to have to repeat much of this detail for the next practitioner who asks them.
Completing an assessment from scratch can be time consuming for practitioners too as there is a broad range of information that needs to be found. Often much of this will already be in the system.
Information from a child’s school, notes on a police arrest, a hospital visit or details from a third sector organisation offering advice on drug misuse could all be vital to providing the right help. If held centrally, children and families wouldn’t need to answer the same questions again and again. All staff involved in putting an appropriate care plan in place could access the record too and there would be less chance of important details being missed. But what if the situation changes?
Sometimes, the circumstances that led to a child coming into care will no longer be putting them at risk. It could be that their home life is more stable or they are settled with a foster family, for example. Social services may then step down; handing the care and support of the child to a locality team. It is equally important that the child’s record is made available to authorised staff in what is often multiple teams working with them. If the child has a history of abuse or drug taking, for example, knowing the background and triggers that led to this is critical to keeping them safe.
When families in crisis get the right support sooner, the result could be fewer children ending up in the care system. I am looking forward to hearing about some of the measures that are helping authorities to achieve this on the 12th February, when we will be partnering with the Early Intervention Foundation at its first national conference. I hope to see you there.