Three London borough councils to co-develop families’ case management ‘app store’

Written by Mel Poluck on 15 June 2017 in News
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The London boroughs of Kensington and Chelsea, Westminster City and Hammersmith and Fulham to create digital tools to improve communication between families and children’s services and allow social workers to work ‘on the go’

The initiative also aims to reduce the time that social workers spend sitting at their computer to complete administration by an estimated 30% Credit: Soeren Stache/DPA/Press Association Images

The borough councils are co-developing a suite of digital tools to improve communication between families and council’s children’s services.

The initiative will see the councils co-create a range of digital tools with public sector innovation company Futuregov from September; likely to be a suite of apps that users can access from their smartphone or tablet. 

Family Story will include features such as a timeline of events, including court case outcomes; a central place to store digital documents; social workers’ recommendations following court proceedings; and access to young people’s ‘leaving care’ plans. 


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“Instead of one monolithic system that pretends to do everything, we’re creating series of tools, like the app store. It’ll be loosely joined pieces rather than one big system. Think of it in terms of a marketplace,” FutueGov’s head of client engagement Emma McGowan told Public Technology.

The project team has recently completed an eight-month ‘discovery’ phase in which it engaged local families going through child protection cases to test a prototype app.

Currently, councils and government agencies communicate with families using a mix of letters, text messages and other forms of communication. McGowan said the “loop feels closed” as often, families “cannot communicate back.” Some families have also reported that messages can be unclear. “A family going through an invasive and intense process finds it hard to keep track of what’s going on,” she said.

Family Story, however, aims to allow families and social workers to more easily see details of their case in a single place online. The project team hopes a knock-on effect will be to improve families’ relationship with their council, because the council will be seen to be working “more transparently”.

The initiative also aims to reduce the time that social workers spend sitting at their computer to complete administration by an estimated 30%, by allowing them to work on the go and therefore spend more time with families. The suite of tools could include a chatbot to let social workers make referrals, for example.

“Social workers spend 70% of their time in front of a computer, from work we’ve seen in the UK and Australia. This leaves little room for social workers to do direct work with families,” McGowan said.
 
She added that further cost savings could stem from the technology’s ability to be more cost efficient to upgrade and flex with policy changes, and from the ability for social workers to spend more time securing long-term placements, thus reducing the cost of children in care.

“It’s a very different way of doing social work,” said McGowan. “Families should have ownership over their story and at the moment it feels ‘done to them not with them’. We’re trying to flip the power balance on its head,” she said. 

The project team now plans to develop an API to connect Family Story to council back-office systems.

The three councils will continue to work together on the project despite an agreement made in March to dissolve the shared staffing arrangements of Tri-borough Children’s Services, Tri-borough Adult Social Care and Tri-borough Public Health Services.

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