Mapping Children’s Journeys Through Children and Family Services
Problem: All Councils struggle to understand and monitor how children move between statutory and non-statutory social services. This can make it much harder to make informed decisions on service delivery and often results in children bouncing between services without accessing the right support. Despite local authorities collecting data on children in the early help and care system, it remains siloed with little value derived from it.
We are coming to the end of a Discovery project with Wigan to assess what data on a child’s journey would enable more informed decision-making and better outcomes. The discovery has shown that operational leaders and managers need reliable/timely reporting on the common pathways that children take through services. This would allow for more effective commissioning and ensure services are working with the right people (e.g. children accessing preventative services). The result – children would be less likely to unnecessarily escalate to care which would result in cash savings for local authorities and better outcomes for children.
Scope: Our objective is to give operational leaders and managers in children’s services the data they need to deliver better outcomes. In the alpha phase, we will build a functional prototype data model and visualisation that provides operational leaders and managers a high-level view of children’s journeys through early help and social care. We will build the prototype from data that exists across all councils (inc. SSDA903 Returns, CIN Census, & Annex A) to ensure that others can adopt the tool. We will measure success by improvements to how children escalate and de-escalate between services (e.g. more children accessing early help support) as well as uptake by users.
- A working prototype (data model & visualization) that demonstrates value to users and improves decision-making
- Detailed cost estimates for beta, and the associated business case
- A clear decision on whether to move to beta
We will continue to follow the GDS agile process and work in the open. We will run a 12-week alpha. We will continue to work with Social Finance (a not-for-profit with 11 years’ experience in government data work), who will lead day-to-day. We and our partners will support in a project management role, as well as provide staff time for user testing, technical assistance, and governance management.
We will measure whether our objectives have been met through testing with users and getting feedback from steering groups, show and tells and senior stakeholder meetings across CWAC, Wigan, and Surrey. This will include measuring changes in decision-making (e.g. reduced escalations to social care and bouncing between services), the take-up and usage of the tool, and through testing how much value it is providing through ongoing qualitative research.
Inception – Sprint 1
- Highlight key risks to address and set success metrics
- Align IG agreements across Councils
Iteration – Sprints 2,3,4
- Develop a working prototype with users
- Test and iterate prototype with users and incorporate feedback (e.g. if and how are they using it? What decisions is it supporting? What impact does this have?)
- Produce a user research report, which outlines the reasoning for any proposed solution, and why it is designed that way
Conclusion – Sprints 5,6
- Finalise business case that explains the impact and potential for savings by avoiding costly escalation of children into social care, as well as the cost of progressing to beta
- Take a decision on whether to progress to beta phase
- Project conclusion report, which will outline a plan and roadmap for beta phase, and an indicative plan for beta phase
We will be continually creating and iterating our outputs and posting them after each sprint on GitHub (github.com/SFDigiLabs). This will include our prototype, user research report, and business case so that the wider market can benefit from our learning.
Most local authorities do not have a consistent understanding of the combined child and family service system in their locality, or the number of children that use services and how they move between them. This leads to operational leaders and managers often lacking the data to decide between issues or problems that compete for their attention, and where to target increasingly scarce resources.
This tool will firstly enable operational leaders and managers within universal, early help, and social care to build a common understanding of the system. It will also: flag significant changes and trends to child journeys; direct audit and learning activities based on quantitative data; identify poor journeys; and help evaluate specific intervention and transformation programmes.
This tool would also allow operational leaders and managers to understand the extent to which children that engage with universal, early help, and other preventative services, then go on to social care. This will enable them to benchmark these services and interrogate the preventative impact of each, helping commissioners to better address specific gaps or shortcomings in their services.
For example, preventing children from entering the care system through more targeted services has the potential to produce significant impact. Life outcomes for those who have been in care are significantly worse than their peers (23x more likely to go to prison and 5x more likely to become NEET), and care placements costing upwards of £50k per year per child. Therefore, it is vital that operational leaders and managers get commissioning and transformation decisions right.
We will share our outputs via Github (github.com/SFDigiLabs), ensuring that any code is open source and well explained so that other authorities can test and implement our solution locally. We will use blogs, Github, twitter and Slack to share our learning.
We have run a 12-week discovery to understand why staff across children social care can’t access vital information on children’s journeys, what decisions they take require this information, and what information is needed to create this view of the system.
Over 40 users from frontline staff to senior management across universal and statutory services have been interviewed in CWAC (Cheshire West and Chester) and Wigan, and biweekly show-and-tells were held to test findings with users.
From this research, we have created a series of user personas, and user needs (long-list of 11), related to child journey data and decisions made around it. We tested these user needs with users from CWAC and Wigan as well as multi-disciplinary steering groups (inc. service heads, social workers, analysts, and managers). They agreed that the most important user need was to provide operational leaders and managers a system view of how children move between services (inc. identifying common journeys) so that they can notice changes in performance and direct attention to the most important issues or problems as soon as they occur.
The discovery also highlighted common blockers across Wigan and CWAC that prevent the operational leaders and managers from understanding child journeys including: Services use different non-interoperable case management and data systems; No unique IDs or matching protocols; and no clear understanding of the legal gateways to integrate statutory and non- statutory service data. As a result, it’s very difficult to track how children move between services and target support at the most vulnerable groups and underperforming services.
To further validate discovery findings, we tested them with 12 authorities in early November. They all agreed on the prioritized user need and key blockers. Before finalizing our discovery outputs, we are bringing in a 3rd party to conduct a GDS style assessment in advance of alpha. github.com/SFDigiLabs
CWAC and Wigan Council are participants in a working group of 12 Councils collaborating on how to best use data and technology in commissioning and service delivery. We have tested and validated our discovery findings with this group. We found common user needs and challenges in getting a clear understanding of children’s journeys. The working group has allowed us to ensure that our work was relevant to the wider sector, and we will continue to use this forum to test outputs during our alpha.
This group also provides a pipeline of potential beta users, enabling us to quickly test any solutions at scale. Additionally, we will focus on sharing data and best practice with this wider group and other network organisations (e.g. WWC Children’s Services) to ensure our learnings (inc. technology and service delivery) are shared widely. We will make these learnings available to others through publishing materials and research on GitHub and other online forums.
User Research Report (Sprints 1-5)
In Alpha, we will test mock-ups, wireframes and prototype solutions with operational leaders and managers to assess and improve how we meet user needs, ensuring we align to workflows and decision-making processes. Our user research report will highlight how the user needs are being met by the prototype, and how this has driven our design and discuss how this aligns across councils.
Prototype (Sprints 2-5)
We will build and iterate a prototype data model and visualisation through frequent user testing. We will start with detailed wireframes and mockups before moving quickly to a prototype and MVP that meets their needs. We will ensure long-term viability and scalability to other councils by building a data model that is case management and data system agnostic.
Business Case (Sprints 4-6)
Our business case will analyse the impact of not having a clear understanding of child journeys – including the time and cost of children bouncing between services, the cost of inappropriate escalation to social care and the impact on vulnerable families’ lives. It will assess potential cost reductions enabled through better information and decision making. This will look across CWAC, Wigan, Surrey and other councils. We will also conduct a risk/mitigation analysis to assess barriers for solution adoption. Throughout, we will test the business case with SROs and other key budget holders to ensure it meets their requirements to unlock further funding.
Conclusion for Beta (Sprint 5-6)
If there is a strong business case, we will take a proposal to beta gateway. This will assess the impact of the tool, how technically feasible it is, what service changes may need to be made, and how it can scale. This would include a rough estimation of the costs expected in this process, and a journey map for the beta phase.
Objectives: To better understand user needs and to ensure the prototype effectively aligns to workflows and decision-making; test different design ideas & information architecture; and design the service & pathway changes required to get the most value from the prototype.
User Groups: We’ve identified three main user groups for testing.
- Operational leaders and managers – including Director and Assistant Director of Children’s Services & Commissioning, Director of Early Help and Prevention, Quality Assurance and Safeguarding Leads, Service Managers (e.g. Early Help, Universal services), and Leadership of wider Council services (e.g. adult social care). These users are key for validating the prototype, ensuring it enables them to take better decisions.
- Data and systems leads – including data analysts, IT leads, data owners. These users are key for testing technical feasibility, data extraction processes, and integration with existing systems (e.g. APIs).
- Information governance leads – including IG lead and SRO. These users are key for ensuring the tool, data, and decision-making process aligns to the Council’s data protection procedures and relevant statutory gateways.
User Research Plan and Methods: We will constantly adapt and iterate our user research plan to maximize learning.
User research will start during inception (Sprint 1) to quickly validate discovery findings and further prioritise user needs across each authority. Then moving into mock-up and wireframe testing in Sprint 2. We will run several user testing sessions over two weeks, taking them through specific scenarios based on key decisions the prototype should inform. In Sprint 3 and 4 we will put users in front of the prototype and MVP run usability tests performing cognitive walkthroughs.
At the end of our user research, we will have a scalable, information governance compliant MVP that aligns closely to how operational leaders and managers think, their needs, and their key decisions.
We would welcome the support of the Local Digital Collaboration Unit to:
- Help further share results
- Engage with more local authorities
- Provide check and challenge on process findings
- Engage with GDS for service assessment
We have received philanthropic grant funding for the discovery phase of this project and committed funding to support Alpha.