Children’s electronic records: implementation in turmoil. Special report

Only a “minority” of councils are set to meet a government target to implement a key electronic case record system for children’s social care.

The Integrated Children’s System was meant to be up and running in all councils by 1 January 2007. But in a letter sent out to directors of children’s services last month the Department for Education and Skills warned that most local authorities were not going to meet the deadline.

David Johnstone, chair of the Association of Directors of Social Services’ standards and performance committee, said  it isn’t surprising that the project is problematic, as the government failed to provide a clear framework for the Integrated Children’s System, the Information Sharing Index and the common assessment framework

“There’s a need for a very clear framework on how to implement these or it’s going to be unproductive and a waste of money,” he said.

There are also problems with some IT companies delivering the system for councils, added Johnstone. The government was incorrect to expect councils to meet the target “without fully involving them in the development of the system,” he said.

The government says the system will improve outcomes for children in need and that a key aim of the project is to provide frontline staff with help recording, collating and analysing children’s records.

The project has been developed in response to the high number of child death inquiries, which have found that better communication and information sharing between staff may have prevented tragedies occurring.

The project is set to feed into other government IT projects, such as the Information Sharing Index.

Ministers are also planning to scrap traditional child protection registers by April 2008. Children who are the subject of child protection plans will now be listed electronically.

The DfES’s letter contained the findings of a government review of the project carried out after concerns about its implementation began to surface. A breakdown of the findings are listed below.

  • Only a “minority” of councils are likely to meet the roll out target of 1 January 2007
  • Around 22 councils are not expected to roll out the system until August 2007
  • The government says a further 20 are also “giving cause for concern” and have “very late or unclear” implementation plans. For five of these councils roll out is not expected until 2008 and for ten it is not known when this will take place.
  • The DfES also admits that some councils are yet to start the project, including some who have failed to select a preferred supplier, which are causing it “particular concern”.

The government warns that it may need to work with some authorities to prevent knock on adverse consequences for other IT projects in the Every Child Matters agenda such as the Information Sharing Index and the phasing out of traditional child protection registers.

Factors which have led to the delays identified by the DfES include:

1. A wide range of interpretations of requirements needed for the integrated children’s system by both local authorities and IT suppliers.

2. The IT market for children’s social care lacking capacity, exacerbated by the speed of change in children’s services.

3. A mismatch between authorities’ requirements for the integrated children’s system and what is available from suppliers.

4. Failure by a small number of authorities to address the integrated children’s system with sufficient urgency and it sometimes being obscured by other more recent Every Child Matters initiatives such as the Information Sharing Index.

5. A lack of sufficiently experienced resources devoted to the integrated children’s system in some authorities.

6. Some suppliers still not having completed development of their integrated children’s system.

The DfES says some of the findings reflect the lessons they need to learn themselves and these will be taken into account in future work on the integrated children’s system.

It says that this includes paying more attention to the IT sector’s capacity to deliver its requirements and being as clear as possible in terms of what IT programmes need to be able to do in order to meet those requirements.

The government also admits that its policy of allowing each council to choose and contract with their preferred supplier has lead to more difficulties than advantages.




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