Quality Data for Children in Care (Discovery)


  1. Project outputs
  2. Project timeline
  3. Feedback

This discovery focused on developing a standardised reporting approach for statutory returns, developing a deep understanding of the users’ needs from this process.

Every day, Children’s Services Departments (CSDs) make key decisions deciding the future of vulnerable children without timely and relevant comparable data.

Statutory returns processes are very inefficient and cost-intensive. Each CSD spends upwards of 3 months creating comparable datasets on vulnerable children, collected once a year, costing £50k per authority.

Project outputs

All Local Digital Fund discovery projects were asked to provide the following information at completion:

  • User research report
  • Benefits case
  • Recommendations for next steps


Project links

Project timeline

December 2018 - discovery

‘Common data model for children’s services statutory returns’ discovery receives £80,000 from the Local Digital Fund.

April 2019 - discovery

‘Common data model for children’s services statutory returns’ discovery delivers project outputs which are published on the Local Digital website.

March 2020 - alpha

The project team of the ‘Improving data and evidence on children in care’ alpha deliver the agreed outputs, published openly on the Local Digital website.


Each project was assessed using these lenses by the Local Digital Collaboration Unit. We have provided feedback directly to the project teams and this is a summary of what we shared with them.

It aims to be constructive for both the project team and any other organisation wishing to learn about the project or make use of the work done.

  • The project team has developed a deep understanding of the impact on being in care, referencing existing datasets which reinforce the need for work in this area. The team mapped where this piece of work sits within the wider context of data on looked-after children which in turn provides a good overview to the wider context of the work (this can be found within the recommendations).
  • The project team mapped users across type and authority, providing contextual information such as diversity data and time in post which provides additional context to the user research undertaken.
  • The link between data provided as part of the Department for Education SSDA903 return, and the data needed by senior local authority staff in order to make decisions about looked-after children is not always clear. The project team should consider further discovery activity with senior staff in order to better prioritise datasets and ensure that these meet the needs of decision makers.
  • The project team used a 45% confidence factor based on the Treasury Green Book guidelines, this is a conservative factor and provides a good model for other local authorities to follow. The project team should consider engagement with more local authorities in order to validate the method for data cleaning (throughout the year or intensive) to validate the benefits estimated.
  • The team engaged with regional Information Groups in order to validate their understanding of the process, and analyst groups in order to find user research participants.
  • The team published blog posts and spoke at events but should consider inviting a wider group of participants to their show and tells, or making live-streams or video recordings available to encourage a wider understanding of their work.