ICS fails to cope with rise in family assessments

The integrated children’s system cannot cope with the push to use more familiy assessments in child protection cases, according to experts.

Steve Liddicott, chair of the ICS expert panel, said this shortcoming was the main reason children’s services had had more problems with data entry than adults’ services.

“To an extent the difficulty that underlies a system like ICS is that it’s based on an individual child and information about that child rather than within the context of their family-life,” he said. “That’s one reason why, compared with adults’ services, gathering data to input into a computer system has been much more difficult.

“Although adults have families, the information on service users tends to be about the individual only. Most often, they live on their own.”

The expert panel addressed the issue of family narrative in its guidance published last October. In the guidance, they suggest family narratives attached to children’s files include parents’ employment status, details of family history, parents’ needs and their capacity for change and development.

Arlene Adams, managing director of ICS provider OLM Systems, said up until recently, ICS had been too rigid.

“Some of the sentiments of what ICS was developed for have been lost in the implementation,” she said. “It was a rigid process that meant you had to put children in boxes rather than help social workers see the big picture.”

Adams said matters had improved, however, since the Department for Children, Schools and Families had relaxed standards for the ICS. With more freedom, councils were now innovating and developing solutions to the problem.

Some councils, she said, used graphic family trees to map the child’s relationships with family, friends, teachers and carers.

Another council had been creative in setting up systems so that social workers could both access and input data remotely.

“The council has saved half a million pounds doing this,” she said. “It saves on travel because social workers don’t always have to come back to the office after every visit to enter data and it helps them make decisions more effectively because they have access to all the information they need on visits.”

Robert Fitzgerald, children’s services product manager at OLM, said this kind of innovation was the ideal.

“What we need to strive for is independent users determining what should happen with the system rather than local government,” he said.

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