Introducing the Integrated Children’s System in Lewisham

    feature good practice p22 7 may

    Involving practitioners as well as IT staff in delivering training on the integrated children’s system has worked well at Lewisham Council, says trainer Daphne McKenna (pictured standing, with staff) 

    The integrated children’s system continues to polarise views. Its value in ensuring robust analysis and timely assessment is championed by some, while its requirement for slavish attention to form-filling is abhorred by others. But love it or loathe it, the ICS seems to be here to stay.

    Lord Laming concluded his progress report on the protection of children in England by saying that the Department for Children, Schools and Families should improve the ICS in consultation with social workers and their managers. The ICS should support social workers in their role and their contact with children and families, partners, services and courts, and it should also ensure the transfer of essential information across organisations, Laming said.

    But practitioners also have a responsibility to make the system work for the benefit of vulnerable children and their families.

    There is no doubt that the ICS has many difficulties. The focus on individual files makes it difficult to maintain a family focus, and inputting information on the system is time consuming, particularly at the beginning when a case is opened. But some personal data only needs to be inputted once, and there are opportunities to copy information from other forms and between files about siblings.

    Building on practice wisdom

    Although time is saved by not having to do paperwork, locate missing files, or track down managers to authorise decisions, technical difficulties associated with the ICS can result in tasks taking too long.

    The insistence on a plan that must be regularly reviewed and updated can be frustrating when there is direct work to be done. But the ICS was never expected to replace direct work; rather it provides a tool to ensure direct work is done in a systematic and timely way.

    With confidence, staff can use the system in a way that captures and builds on practice wisdom rather than stifling it. Practitioners need to understand why they are undertaking an assessment and which questions about a family’s functioning need to be addressed, rather than simply doing things by rote because the computer says so.

    The way in which the ICS training is delivered is therefore critical. Done well, it can go some way to ensuring that staff do not lose practice confidence. Many departments have completed training programmes to implement ICS, led by technical staff. But, just as earlier social care training was not the province of a council’s “pen and paper” department, so the implementation of a new recording and case management system should not be the exclusive province of an IT department.

    In Lewisham, ICS training for all staff was provided by both technical and practice trainers to ensure that as many of the tools that can help raise standards were brought to practitioners’ attention as early as possible.

    Phases of development

    Phase one: Training focused on technical aspects. All existing staff received mandatory half-day navigational training and a day each of children in need, child protection and looked-after children training. All new staff who have joined the council since then receive navigational training from business support staff and the rest of their training from practice trainers alone. The help from the business support staff frees practice trainers to provide support to staff at their desk in order to help with learning and to identify areas of concern requiring further training.

    Phase two: The training examined common practice issues in a series of half-day workshops on chronology and plans in the ICS. There were also team-based days, supported by a practice trainer, that deal with problems affecting work flow. Workshops focusing on upgrades and the children in need census are held regularly. Small staff groups have also been trained on specialist issues such as private fostering and specific child protection processes. Written guidance has been developed to help staff integrate best practice with technical requirements of the system.

    A small-scale survey of staff attitudes to the ICS carried out after training revealed that most were more comfortable and competent. There was unanimous agreement that the involvement of a practitioner in the training is essential.

    As a result of their direct involvement, practice trainers have also been able to design a successful course for staff struggling with ICS that meets the individual’s pace of learning and boosts confidence. Steps are being taken to ensure that, where possible, all future practice training for staff references the ICS.

    Phase three: The implementation of the ICS has shifted to supporting team managers and specifically illustrating how ICS can help with the audit process and more reflective supervision.

    These initiatives have gone some way to helping staff feel more confident about the use of the ICS. Above all else, they reinforce the message that ICS is a tool for us to master not the master of social work practice.

    ● Daphne McKenna is an independent reviewing officer and ICS trainer at Lewisham Council

    This article appeared in Community Care 7 May under the headline “Stages of Success”

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