Agenda item

Improvements to ICT Use Within Social Care

-           Strategic Director of Environment and Development Services to report.


Councillor Lakin, Leader of the Council, introduced a joint report by the Strategic Directors for Environment and Development Services and Children and young People’s Services, which provided an update on the findings of the recent Ofsted inspections with relation to the use of technology within children’s social care and to outline work being taken to improve the way that social care ICT systems and tools were used within the Children and Young People’s Service.


The Ofsted reports have highlighted the need for officers to take some immediate steps to improve the functionality and improve the use of ICT systems within Children and Young People’s Services. In the longer term the Council was to revaluate the social care case management products available on the market with a view to procuring replacement software ahead of the end of the current contract end date in 2018.


It was proposed that three distinct workstreams be undertaken to address the issues raised as part of the Ofsted inspection. The workstreams would be run in parallel, overseen by a strategic steering group and in conjunction with the programme of organisational change led by the Director of Safeguarding, Children and Families.


The work steam details of what they would primary focus on were set out in detail as part of the report:-


·              Workstream 1 – Immediate System and Process Improvements

·              Workstream 2 – Social Care System - Market Testing and Procurement

·              Workstream 3 – Greater use of Mobile Technologies


The three workstreams described formed a part of the overall improvement programme which was led by the Director of Safeguarding, Children and Families. It was proposed that a sub-group be formed to manage these ICT projects and that this sub-group report back to Members with updates on a monthly basis.


The current Northgate system was in use for both Adult’s and Children’s social care so careful consideration would need to be given to whether any potential system changes were done across the whole of social care or were just limited to Children and Young People’s Services. Neighbourhoods and Adult Services Directorate already used the Northgate system effectively and had no strong desire to change to an alternative product. This was in part motivated by an acknowledgement of the significant resources (human and financial) that Neighbourhoods and Adult Services would need to invest in any migration project.


To mitigate this risk it was likely that prospective suppliers would be invited to indicate if they wished to bid for just a Children and Young People’s Services system or for an integrated adult’s/children’s system. Neighbourhoods and Adult Services would be fully engaged in Workstream 2 from the outset.


A further risk was that of the likelihood of nugatory investment in the development of the incumbent system between now and going live with any replacement. The Council already had system several development projects underway with Northgate that have been necessitated by the Care Act 2014 and other recent legislation changes. This work (which affected both Children and Young People’s Services and Neighbourhoods and Adult Services) would need to go ahead if the Council were to fulfil its obligations in this regard and could not be postponed until a new system was in place. This risk would be mitigated by keeping any development work to a minimum until the future of the system was clear and ensure that any replacement system had functionality which would fulfil the demands of current and emerging legislation.


All three workstreams required significant changes in working practices and formed part of a much more substantial change management programme. There may be insufficient capacity within the business to adapt to the changes and ensure the benefits were released and translated into improved practice and outcomes for children.


Cabinet Members, in considering this matter, took into account the points raised in the public questions at the start of the meeting, but sought clarification on whether or not additional hardware was required, security of data, transition of children through to adulthood and the migration between two different ICT systems and data sharing with partners.


Cabinet Members were informed that some hardware would be required, but that security between mobile devices was not a barrier to mobile working.  In terms of migration, a decision had to be made on whether this was an ICT system just for children or whether it would be combined to include adults.


Discussions had to take place around the functionality of the current system, given that this was effectively used for adults, and data sharing with partners would be included.


It was noted that Neighbourhoods and Adults Services had embarked on a huge programme of training to address some of the initial concerns with the Northgate system and had worked closely with the company on the system interface.


The priority was clearly to assist social workers in their roles to protect children, which had resulted in the former Chief Executive corresponding with the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Home Affairs Select Committee about the reductions in resources and the implications for the Council.


Reduction of staffing numbers within the Children and Young People’s Services system team meant that there were insufficient staff numbers to support the three workstreams running currently whilst also maintaining existing commitment to support other core systems and day to day operations.


Whilst every effort would be made to ensure the safety of children was maintained any changes to an ICT system would impact on the capacity of staff.  To mitigate this additional agency staff were being maintained to continue safeguarding children through this difficult period.


The need to move away from a silo approach was recognised and this issue needed to be dealt with corporately to drive forward the direction of travel needed in the future.


The current Northgate system was used by a number of Councils and it must be ascertained as a matter of some urgency whether the system in Rotherham was any different to those being used elsewhere.  However, the short term improvements to safeguard children needed to be implemented immediately.


On this basis Cabinet Members suggested that a Project Group be established to corporately oversee this work involving both officers and Elected Members to work closely with other partner agencies on the system interface.


Resolved:-  (1)  That the progress in relation to achieving the short term priorities set out in Appendix B of the report.


(2)  That the  implementation of additional functionality within the existing Children’s Social Care Case Management system be approved.


(3)  That that work begin immediately on testing the market with a view to procuring an alternative Children’s and/or Adults Social Care Case Management system.


(4)  That the likely resource implications (staffing and financial) associated with these improvement works be noted.


(5)  That a Project Group be established corporately to oversee this work involving both officers and Elected Members to work closely with other partner agencies on the system interface.

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