Council Spotlight: Achieving for Children
For this edition of the Council Spotlight, we are highlighting Achieving for Children — a not-for-profit social enterprise owned by three councils.
Jabed Hussain and Nada Hassanatou describe how the Achieving for Children (AfC) team works with Children’s Services to develop innovative digital tools that improve the lives of families.
What is Achieving for Children (AfC)?
Achieving for Children (AfC) is a not-for-profit social enterprise. It’s equally owned by three Councils:
- The Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames
- The London Borough of Richmond
- The Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead
Our mission is to provide children and their families with the support and services they need to live happy, healthy and successful lives.
Two years ago, AfC began its journey to become a digital organisation. We engaged with colleagues, and worked with them to create digital solutions that could solve everyday challenges.
“The way that we use technology in all aspects of our lives has changed rapidly over the last decade — most recently in our response to the global Covid-19 pandemic. Importantly, technology continues to evolve and offer us even more possibilities and opportunities.
At Achieving for Children we recognise the importance of embracing technology in order to deliver modern children’s services that are relevant and responsive to our local communities.
Our aim is to support digital growth within the organisation. We do this by encouraging digital solutions and developing interactive services that enable our practitioners to work more effectively. This enables them to spend more of their time working directly with children, young people and their families. That’s where we know they can make a lasting difference” Ian Dodds, Director of Children’s Services for the Royal Borough of Kingston Upon Thames and the London Borough of Richmond Upon Thames
Once the Department of Education (DfE) awarded us funding, we were able to support over 22 local authorities in their digital transformation journeys. It’s important to note that digital innovation in children’s services is approached carefully because of the highly sensitive information involved.
We’re going to outline two digital tools that children’s services in Richmond and Kingston are currently using. The technology used tackles different issues that many children’s services in other local authorities experience. Just so you know, we’re happy to answer any questions! Go to the section ‘Get in touch with us’ for more details.
Case Study One — Improving Child Protection Conferences through our audio recording tool
What is a Child Protection Conference?
A Child Protection (CP) Conference is organised by a local authority when both of the following apply:
- they’ve investigated concerns about someone abusing a child
- they believe a child is suffering, or likely to suffer significant harm
It is a meeting between family members, the child (where appropriate) and professionals such as nursery nurses, teachers, the Police, healthcare professionals and social workers.
You can see what happens in a Child Protection Conference with our mock video below. It was created for families and children so they can feel more prepared.
The audio recording tool
Our Digital Transformation team collaborated with our Conferencing Protection Conference Chairs to develop this tool and combat the following three challenges:
- Vulnerable families and children had negative experiences
- Business Support Officers had to attend child protection conferences
- Conferences were long and expensive
The audio recording tool is cloud-based, and records child protection conferences. Minutes were taken manually before this tool was introduced.
These conferences can last for hours at a time; the tool records it all and produces a transcript which is invaluable. We’ll focus on this later.
- Vulnerable families and children had negative experiences
Child protection conferences are highly confidential and sensitive in nature. Families rely heavily on the minutes of the meeting. They are used by family members who can’t attend conferences, and may be listened to by children when they become adults. This means our tech gives children a way to hear how and why decisions were made which may have affected their lives.
“The main impact is that when children grow up and want to access their records they will be able to listen to the conversations that took place between their family and the professionals working with them, helping them better understand the decisions and actions of the adults in their lives. It’s also led to less complaints about child protection conferences”- Caroline Ash, Head of Child Protection Conferences & Review
Families also felt the minutes did not capture what happened accurately, which led to complaints, and embedded a lack of trust in the system. Our audio recording tool has had such a positive impact on families as a result.
“Parents have said that they much prefer the meeting to be audio recorded, believing that the recording accurately captures what they said and knowing that they can request a copy of the audio recording at any time.
This has increased parents’ trust that professionals are being transparent, leading to more honest communication and cooperation between families and professionals so a plan can be built that everyone is committed to. This ultimately improves the safety for children” — Caroline Ash, Head of Child Protection Conferences & Review
Families are, understandably, extremely anxious about Child Protection Conferences, and often felt intimidated by the amount of people in the room.
By audio recording the conference, fewer people need to be present, and families feel more relaxed. This is vital — remember that life changing decisions are made at Child Protection conferences.
2. Business Support Officers had to attend child protection conferences
Business Support Officers now do not have to attend the conferences personally. This has generated greater resilience in the business support service. Officers are now more involved in managing caseloads and project management, which creates a better service for families.
3. Conferences were long and expensive
Our audio recording tool saves time and money.
Over one year, the time and escalation savings equate to approximately £50,000, based on holding one child protection conference every week, for one year.
- business support officers no longer have to attend conferences and take physical minutes
- conference chairs are more present in meetings as they do not have to take notes
- meeting minutes are now a combination of an audio file and action plan replacing lengthy verbatim record and documents
Using audio recording alongside typed templates, conference chairs on average save two hours per conference.
“Conferences are quicker as conversations remain more focused and the conference chairs no longer have to check the notes, so the time of these experts has been freed up to enable them to do important quality assurance work” — Caroline Ash, Head of Child Protection Conferences & Review
Case study two: Using Robotic Process Automation for child protection referrals
What are child protection referrals and who sees them?
We receive 2000 child protection referrals per month.
Child protection referrals can be made if someone is concerned about a child being at risk of harm. They may be concerned about:
- the child’s developmental needs
- issues that the parent or carer is experiencing
- a child they suspect is being neglected or subjected to physical, sexual, or emotional abuse
The Single Point of Access team (SPA) is a multi-agency service. It has access to a central database which is shared with Children’s Social Care Services, NHS Health Visitors, the Metropolitan Police and Child Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS).
Traditionally, a referral would be received by email, and the information would be put manually into the system individually. As you can imagine, processing these referrals was extremely time consuming for SPA Officers.
To respond to this problem, we used a Robotic Process Automation (RPA) software. It replicates the manual and repetitive admin tasks that SPA Officers carry out when processing referrals.
What is RPA?
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is the use of a computer program or application that runs through a process or task that would normally be carried out by a human. ‘Bots’ can automate human tasks that are manual, rule-based and repetitive, such as the referrals SPA Officers receive.
Below you will see a video of a bot processing a child protection referral.
There are subtitles that have been added to the video, so you can understand what the bot is doing. You can press on the subtitles/closed caption button on the video. There is also a transcript of the subtitles. If you need to access this video in a different format, please contact: email@example.com.
Four benefits of our technology for Children’s Services
- Increased confidentiality
Fewer people access email inboxes to extract referrals
2. More capacity for referral teams
Automating the tasks helps to free up time for referral teams — one full-time person equivalent to be precise!
The referral team has more time to communicate with families directly which is essential. They can now focus on analysing data to forecast, plan and improve the service.
3. Referrals are no longer bottlenecked on Mondays
People’s concerns about child protection do not stop because it’s the weekend. Usually on Mondays the team has a backlog of referrals that need to be uploaded on the system. With the bot, weekend referrals are processed and uploaded before staff arrive for work.
4. Processing referrals is quicker
As bots can process the referral in just over a minute, support for families is identified and implemented earlier. This gives them access to services such as Early Help sooner.
Get in touch
If you have any questions, you can get in touch with Jabed Hussain, Associate Director of Business Efficiency & Digital Transformation.
He’s very friendly, and as well as answering any questions, can chat with you about how AfC identified solutions, engaged with stakeholders and what lessons have been learned.