Ministers will ask the Social Work Taskforce to make reviewing the effectiveness of electronic case-recording systems a priority.
This will include a full evaluation of the integrated children’s system (ICS), which has attracted criticism from social workers since being introduced nationally in 2007.
Variation across the country
A statement from the Department of Children, Schools and Families, which announced the full taskforce membership today, admitted that “variation in implementation of IT systems” across the country had led to “varying degrees of effectiveness of ICS”.
ICS is a standardised framework of computerised case recording designed to help social workers and managers in assessing the needs of children and monitoring their development.
It is designed to make assessments more efficient, but users have reported that in practice, ICS is inflexible and time-consuming.
ICS “not user-friendly”
The University of York published a study last year, involving four local authorities that piloted the system between 2004 and 2006.
Almost all social workers who took part described it as “not user-friendly”.
They said they found the computerised forms too prescriptive, and spent more time in assessments inputting data than they did talking to the child or family. On average, assessments took more than ten hours to complete, with around four hours spent on each care plan.
Pledge to improve systems
Children’s secretary Ed Balls conceded that concerns had been raised about how ICS works, and pledged to give social workers the best possible system.
“Good record keeping is vital. But it is essential that social workers are able to do their jobs with the minimum of bureaucracy and they are able to achieve the right balance between maintaining their records and spending time with vulnerable families.”
The shortfalls of IT in children’s services