Munro’s ICS proposal ‘unrealistic’, says expert

Professor Eileen Munro's suggestion that the Integrated Children's System could be developed to support social work decision-making is unrealistic, according to an ICS expert. (Pictured: Eileen Munro)

Professor Eileen Munro’s suggestion that the Integrated Children’s System could be developed to support social work decision-making is unrealistic, according to an ICS expert.

In the first instalment of her review of England’s children’s services, Munro suggested the ICS could follow “expert systems” models in the airline industry and medicine. Providers argue, however, that the sectors differ too much.

“There are just too many variables in child protection to apply that kind of system,” said Vanessa Perkins, children’s services product manager, OLM Systems.

“It’s much more straightforward in medicine and airlines. If you administer too much medicine, it could result in a fatality. If a plane goes down, you can tell what went wrong with the mechanics. The thing about child protection is that it’s not that black and white.”

ICS expert panel chair Steve Liddicott said he could imagine a system able to help decision-making in very simple cases, but not in more complex ones.

“What we’re talking about then is artificial intelligence systems and that’s quite a move away from a database system. I can’t help thinking that the degree of information you would have to input into such a system may well be more onerous then the current system.”

However, he said the last phase of the ICS development schedule had begun to offer support to social workers in terms of flashing warnings of timescales on cases. “I know it’s that aspect of bureaucracy that Professor Munro is probably looking to get rid of but that type of functionality is there.”

Liddicott added that the ICS had been devised to meet the requirements on assessments, the Working Together guidance and legislation. If the Munro review resulted in sweeping changes to those requirements, he said it could have a serious impact on how fit-for-purpose current ICS systems would remain.

“The problem with any IT development is that it tends to be followed by a large pound sign with lots of naughts after it and whether any local authority would be willing to spend that kind of money when they have already invested substantially in existing ICS is problematic,” Liddicott said.

Perkins agreed. She said any development of ICS would have to be national and lead to a more standardised system.

“One approach would be to develop a single solution for all local authorities,” she said. “You could also create a flexible solution that would into account take local variables. The other option would be bespoke systems. The problem is that they would be expensive to develop and apply to local authorities.”

Some local authorities would be at an advantage, Perkins said, because they already had flexible systems that could be altered to fit any more requirements of legislation. Others, she said, would have more catching up to do.

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