Developing Family Context: a solution that puts information on family context into the hands of social workers so that they can better access and support children and their family

Full Application: Funded

Our proposed beta solution: The Family Context tool will provide social workers in Children’s Social Care with information on relevant family members and their interactions with key services (police, adult social care, housing and schools). This will enable Social Workers to make more informed assessments of safeguarding risk and support decisions for children and their family. Our current prototype: here


Why we’ve chosen this solution: Our discovery highlighted that social workers face significant challenges in understanding family context during assessments – spending too much time searching for information and missing valuable opportunities to coordinate support across services. More on discovery: here.


During alpha, we conducted five rounds of user testing with 23 social workers to iterate different designs (including live testing) and prioritise what data to include (e.g. feasibility vs. impact). More on alpha here (user research p.19-43, prototype evolution p.45-49, technical feasibility p.58-65) 

The outcomes from alpha suggest Family Context will improve social workers ability to conduct assessments and outcomes for children. Family Context made it easier for social workers to find relevant information (saving 2hrs per assessment, slide 52), improved assessments (slide 53), and enabled children to access the right support (estimated 20% reduction in children escalating into care). Social workers also found the tool intuitive, simple, and easy-to-use. 


External validation: We tested and iterated the Family Context use case, content and service blueprint in Stockport and Leeds with input from 15 councils through workshops and targeted user research in other LAs (including Islington, Hackney and Bracknell Forest). This helped ensure that we addressed a common problem.


Scaling the solution: Family Context will be easy to share across LAs and maintain, and will not be dependent on any vendor. It will consist of four open-source components (see 2.4 for detail). The tech decisions are based on a skills and tech review of partner LAs to leverage existing resources/capabilities. We’ve also used our existing networks – e.g. 10 Greater Manchester councils, 21 North-West and 19 SESLIP councils – to test findings/assumptions. 

Further research during beta: In beta, we’ll research how best to define family as its complex and raises ethical considerations. We’ll also continue our focus on data ethics – running ‘citizen juries’ to understand families’ perception and expectation around the use of data. Finally, we’ll prioritise accessibility to ensure the beta solution supports social workers with different assisted digital needs/literacy and ensure compliance with WCAG 2.1 level AA.

The Problem: Social workers rarely have access to all the information they need on a child and family when deciding whether there is a safeguarding risk and what support to provide. We’ve tested and validated this problem in Stockport and Leeds and received input from 15 councils through workshops, user research with social workers in other LAs (e.g.Islington/Hackney/Bracknell Forest), and meetings with SLT in Bexley and North Somerset.

What is the impact? Our findings from discovery and alpha indicate that social workers (p.83-84):

  • Waste time searching for information, reducing time spent with the family
  • Often work with incomplete information because the search process is too time consuming

This has huge impacts on children’s lives when a child’s safeguarding risk cannot be assessed appropriately and quickly, meaning they cannot get access to the necessary level of support as soon as possible (p.85-86)

Other impacts include (p.21-25):

  • Social workers are tired, annoyed and frustrated
  • Councils waste time and money on inappropriate support

What hypothesis did we test? Giving social workers an overview of people in the family alongside their engagement with relevant services has two benefits:

  1. Save time chasing information
  2. Make more informed decisions at assessment

We found that social workers save ~2 hours per assessment chasing information using the tool. Initially, our assumption was that social workers wanted a tool visualising the services involved with the family through a timeline. However, we learned that social workers found it more valuable to have the contact information of relevant service practitioners. 

We simplified the UI to surface the contact details of practitioners from relevant services and the information needed to facilitate a conversation on risks/strengths. See here for detail on data included. 

Social Worker User Journey: With social workers and the SLT, we defined the ‘as-is’ and future user journey to understand how Family Context embeds into existing practice. Our service blueprints here

Currently, social workers waste significant time conducting ‘investigative processes’ to find relevant information on the child and their family. 

Family Context will modify the user journey. Instead of searching for information, it will provide social workers with easy access to contact details for relevant practitioners 

involved with the family to facilitate an informed conversation about the child and family. This will improve assessment quality and save time – enabling better decisions and social workers to spend more time with children/families.

Family Context private beta solution will be designed to be easily shareable across councils, easy to maintain, scale and vendor-agnostic. 

Family Context Solution: We’ll leverage the existing tech-stack and skillsets to make Family Context easy and cheap to maintain and develop:

  • Legacy Systems/Technology:
  1. MDM Solutions
    Leeds uses SSRS/Power BI
    Stockport uses a Postgres Enterprise DW/ElasticSearch, supported by FME.
  2. AAAs
    Combination of OAuth/OpenID Connect/LDAP (Microsoft Active Directory)
  3. Hosting
    VMWare for on-premises
    AWS EC2/Azure VM for cloud deployments
  4. Codebase
  • Data Model/API Layer: We’ll define our API and data model as an open standard. This will be a RESTful API for managing family definition and querying family information. We’ll develop Leeds- and Stockport-specific implementations of the API to interface with local data systems and a reference implementation for other LAs. 


  • Front-End/Hosting: .Net/JavaScript/React/Redux front-end which talks to the Family Context API. These technologies are well supported across LAs. The API implementation and front-end will be deployed on the local devops teams’ infrastructure (VMWare in Stockport / Azure VM in Leeds) and a Docker-based reference implementation for other LAs. 


  • Data Security: We take a privacy-by-design and by-default approach. As such, we’ll leverage the existing data access controls and policies for our Master Data Management Solutions because they conform to best-practice. The Family Context API will integrate with this. For authentication/authorisation, we’ll use a combination of OAuth/OpenID Connect/LDAP (Microsoft Active Directory).



  • Information governance agreements – standard IG agreements and DPIAs for accessing housing, police, adult social care and school data.




  • Ethics framework – supporting LAs to add new data-fields/datasets ethically.




  • Family Context implementation guide – detailed guidance enabling all LAs to implement Family Context 



Performance Monitoring: We’ll monitor and publish performance based on Service Manual best-practice and outcome metrics defined by social workers and SLTs (e.g. google analytics).


  • User metrics:
  • Cost per assessment
  • User satisfaction (e.g. surveys, quality of data and trust in tool)
  • Completion rate and speed of assessments (compared to without Family Context)
  • Take-up and usage of tool


  • Outcome metrics:
  • Change in number of children escalated to care
  • Change in number of children de-escalated to universal or no support 
  • Change in quality of supervision between social workers and team managers

Operational support: Dedicated admin support will provide level 1 and level 2 support. A service lead/champion will provide on-going training and prepare materials. We’ll create a project steering committee to coordinate the project (e.g. releases/features/bugs).

During discovery and alpha, we faced the challenge of collaborating across multiple councils. To overcome this, we leveraged new tools and technologies that enable effective collaboration and support our agile work process.


Tools: We’ll expand on the tool-kit used in discovery and alpha to improve our ability to collaborate across councils and work in the open.

  • Planning: We’ll continue to use Trello boards to effectively plan and manage progress. These will be accessible to everyone so that learnings and progress are shared.
  • Communication: To enable quick and easy communication, we decided to use email rather than Slack because of existing LA IT restrictions. We will use skype/zoom to livestream show-and-tells and other ceremonies.
  • Collaborating and Iterating: All artefacts will be published to our GitHub page, Huddle and produced in SharePoint and Miro/Realtime Board (e.g. user research synthesis) to ensure anyone can access and feed-in.
  • Publishing: our weeknotes and blogs will be published on Pipeline and Medium to provide visibility of our work.

Governance: Across the partners, we’ve planned a series of ceremonies to ensure the right level of visibility across LAs, national partners/networks and senior governance to unpick problems and amplify success:

  • Project Team: The team will run 2-week sprints using Kanban which builds on discovery and alpha and our experience running agile projects. Key methods and ceremonies include:
    • daily stand ups: to discuss progress and unpick blockers within and between councils;
    • show and tells: with key stakeholders to showcase progress and build buy-in;
    • sprint planning sessions: at the start of each sprint to decide our actions and ensure we’re working together towards a common objective;
    • setting WIP limits: to reduce the amount of work ‘nearly done’ in Kanban


    • Retrospectives: to help communicate and resolve challenges the team faces (inc. KALM, 3 Ls, FLAP, etc); and
    • Futurespectives: to collectively agree on our vision and work backwards on what steps we need to take to reach that goal.


  • Senior Stakeholders: We will have cross-council project calls with sponsors and SROs every month to give senior stakeholders (e.g. director children’s services and others) opportunities to feedback into the project, address risks, test the business case and discuss long-term sustainability. All senior stakeholders will also be invited to the bi-weekly, live-streamed show-and-tells.


Family Context will also be a standing item on the agenda of SLT meetings across the partner local authorities.

Support from the Local Digital Collaboration Unit has been very helpful in alpha. We would welcome this continued support to help continue to share outputs and results, engage with further local authorities and provide check and challenge at show-and-tells and key gateways. 


Training: We would like to develop our team through trainings provided by the Local Digital Collaboration Unit. In particular, we would like to send staff on the user researcher course to upskill the team in user-centred design and development of digital public services as well as the 3-day delivery manager course to build confidence with minimum viable product and story mapping, and impact mapping. 


Community events and communications: We are keen to attend community events organised by LDCU to learn from other local authorities, share insights and promote Family Context. These events can provide a great platform for our work and help us with our ambitions for national scale. Similarly, we would value LDCU amplifying our online communications through their wider networks, for example by retweeting our blogs and publishing our livestreams.


Continuous feedback: LDCU’s feedback throughout beta will ensure Family Context scales and effectively fixes the plumbing. During alpha, feedback from LDCU helped us prioritise user research with other councils (e.g. Islington/Bracknell Forest/Hackney), for example. 


Other support: We have secured the help of both DCMS and the ICO to support Family Context address any information governance and sharing issues that may arise. The ICO have also committed to providing ~8 days of benefit in-kind support to provide information governance advice and guidance and review and comment on relevant outputs (such as the common DPIA). 


We are enthusiastic about engaging with Social Finance on their Family Context beta. We will be offering our advice and support over the next few months and we are looking forward to this important collaboration” – The Information Commissioners Office


In order to help us to cover the costs of the beta programme and implementation, we have also secured philanthropic funding from the Christie Foundation for £100,000.