Better Data on Children in Care: Building a Common Model — Update from our Show-and-Tell!

Last week, Wigan, Stockport, Manchester, GMCA and Social Finance headed over to Manchester for our second show-and-tell of the project. For this 90-minute interactive workshop we focused on 2 key questions:

  • How is data currently collected on children in care?
  • How good is the quality of this data?

What data is collected on children in care?

Every Children’s Services Department in the country reports to the Department for Education once a year on all children in their care. This report is called the ‘903 return’. We’ve heard that the process of collecting and reporting this data is currently very time-consuming and inefficient.

Our user research shows that the biggest issue is with the quality of data. This won’t be a surprising finding for analysts in children’s services! We’ve heard from social workers that data recording isn’t always perfect. This is because of the time pressure they’re under and the structure of the case management systems. Analysts and other teams then spend a lot of time making data more accurate. If we can reduce the number of errors, then we can make the data more useful and save a lot of time!

So how do analysts clean the data?

We worked with analysts to map out the process of cleaning and preparing the data for the 903 returns. We found that this process is different in each authority.

In Wigan, social workers and business support clean all errors directly in the case management system in a year-round intensive error-cleaning process. Stockport and Manchester have a more automated process. Their analysts fix some errors in an extract sheet. They also run code to clean some errors automatically.

Despite these differences, each authority actually experiences a similar number of errors per child in care. This was a surprising finding, and triggered some great discussions!

How can we better clean the data?

In our discussion we agreed that there is no ‘silver bullet’ solution to the problems in the current process. Some problems are system-driven, while others are process-driven. Overall, it would be more productive to stop errors creeping in in the first place.

What kind of errors occur?

When we compared the errors in each council some really interesting results came up. Actually the errors in each council are quite different. In fact, less than half of error types exist in all three authorities. This means that most errors have already been eliminated in one of the councils, and therefore should be possible to eliminate elsewhere too! We’ll come on to think about how we might do this later in the project.

Our first plumbing fix!

We identified that every council has to write code to extract data from the case management system. This is a great opportunity to share solutions.

Wigan has offered to share their extraction codes to get data out of Liquidlogic (one of the main case management systems) with Stockport. This will save Stockport time and money straight away. This just shows what benefits we can get when councils work together!

Where do we go from here?

If we want to stop data errors from happening in the first place, there are a few different routes we could go down:

  • We could work with social workers and the case management systems to make it easier for social workers to input data
  • We could provide advice to the Department for Education on how to make the process more efficient for councils. For example, by making its portal available more frequently throughout the year so that analysts can regularly test-run their data
  • We are also looking into the possibility of developing an ‘error benchmarking tool’. This would allow authorities to compare their errors as they go and see if another authority has fixed the problem already. They could then get together to share solutions

What’s coming up this week?

We’re now looking at what information leadership in children’s services need to improve decisions. This week we spoke to the Director and Deputy Director of Children’s Services in Manchester and to a social worker and service manager in Wigan. In total, we’ve done 11 semi-structured leadership interviews. We are synthesising these interviews to identify key themes.

At our show-and-tell next week, we’ll discuss what data is valuable to decision-makers, and what is available to them currently.

We also attended two exciting events this week. On Wednesday we headed up to Bradford for the MHCLG Roadshow. On Thursday we were at the ShareDigital event on Birmingham.

Look out for our blog post next week for the next update!

Better Data on Children in Care Project

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GMCA, Manchester, Wigan, Stockport, Social Finance and MHCLG Local Digital are working to create a common approach for better data on children in care

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