When it comes to identifying children and families at risk, local authority staff often talk about the need to pull different pieces of information together in order to get a full view of their circumstances – not unlike fitting the pieces of a complex jigsaw together.
Whether it is the attendance or achievement data from a child’s school, notes from a medical practitioner relating to the deteriorating health of a family member or details from a social worker who has flagged a safeguarding issue, every piece of information tells a small part of the story on its own.
But when these different pieces of data are brought together, a more accurate picture of a child or family’s situation emerges, which is critical to enabling the right decisions to be made, at the right time, to prevent a family in need from becoming a family in crisis.
Uncovering the bigger picture
Everyone has their own strategy for attempting a jigsaw puzzle, but many people find the best place to start is to get the corner pieces in place. They provide the crucial clues to help you build the framework you need to put all the other pieces where they belong and complete the picture.
When it comes to identifying and supporting the most vulnerable children, information from schools is often regarded as crucial to understanding what is going on in their lives – the corner pieces of the bigger picture, if you like.
As discussions continue about the possibility of further academisation of schools, local authorities will be turning their thoughts to how data, such as the achievement of looked-after children or details of pupils who have been excluded, can continue to be captured in the future.
Information from schools
Many schools that have already converted to academy status have agreements in place that enable them to continue sharing data. Details of children’s attendance, achievement, behaviour and whether or not they are entitled to free school meals, for example, might be exchanged with the local authority on a weekly or sometimes even daily basis.
Technology is available that makes this a simple task, allowing data stored on an academy’s management information system to be transferred securely and electronically to the local authority and back again automatically. This ensures that timely information is available to all those who need it, with minimal impact on staff workloads.
Why is this important?
The importance of collaboration to keep children safe
If a child starts repeatedly missing school on a Monday morning or their behaviour in class suddenly begins to deteriorate, there could be many reasons behind it. It could be that their family is struggling to make ends meet or they are experiencing neglect and abuse at home.
Changes in a child’s behaviour at school can be one of the earliest indicators that their family might be having difficulties. The sooner local authorities are aware of the issues affecting a vulnerable child in school, the quicker families will get the help they need to give their children the best chance in life.
Effective data sharing sits at the heart of the early help agenda and is central to the multi-agency approach to keeping children safe.
Having all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle in place helps local authorities, schools, academies and other agencies involved to uncover the issues so they can work together to protect children and support families that need them most.