Council to replace social workers’ IT system first installed in 1995

Durham council is today replacing a 'not fit for purpose' database with a modern electronic case management system

Photo: PhotoAlto/REX/Shuttershock

Social workers at a North East council may be celebrating today as their IT system is eased into retirement after almost a quarter of a century in use.

Friday 1 February 2019 is Durham council’s switch-on date for the electronic case management system Liquidlogic, in use at around 80 local authority children’s services, which replaces a relational database, the Social Services Information Database (SSID). Durham has invested £3m in the switch, according to council documents.

The SSID, which used to be a common piece of council software, has been in operation at the county since 1995 – longer than some social workers have been alive. Community Care was unable to find any recent records of it still being in use elsewhere.

A version of the system was criticised back in 2004, for its primitive searchability, by the Bichard inquiry into child protection capabilities on Humberside in the wake of the murders of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells.

An internal scrutiny review of the role of the social worker, published by Durham in late 2018, described the system as “no longer fit for purpose”, slow and user-unfriendly.

Olwyn Gunn, Durham’s cabinet member for children and young people’s services, said that workforce wellbeing was “extremely important” to the council and formed a crucial part of the review, which sought to “empower” social workers.

Poor systems add to pressures

Admin pressures have been cited as a key factor in burnout among children’s social workers, many of whom find themselves unable to spend as much time as they need to with children and families. Some councils have invested in mobile technology to enable practitioners to keep up with casework on the go.

Critical Ofsted reports also regularly highlight ineffective electronic systems as hampering social work performance management and quality assurance.

Durham’s last full inspection, a ‘requires improvement’ judgment in 2016, noted that the council relied on a hybrid of electronic and paper case management that meant early help work was hard to track and out-of-hours duty teams “may not be fully informed”.

But it added that the council was already taking action to improve the situation.

“In recent years, functionality, navigation methods and reporting tools available within commercial IT systems for children’s services have improved significantly,” said Keith Forster, children and young people’s services operational support manager at Durham council. “We recognised this in 2015 and decided to begin the process of replacing the database system we use the following year.”

Forster said that Durham had continued to update the SSID as far as possible while the new system was being put in place. The old database’s connections to other areas of the council meant the handover had to be “carefully managed and carried out in distinct phases”, he added.

‘It doesn’t help social workers find information’

Durham is not the only council spending scant resources on replacing creaking social work IT infrastructure.

At the other end of the country, Torbay recently transferred £1 million of its reserves to support IT upgrades, including its children’s services case management system, PARIS, which has been in place since 2005.

“The electronic recording system doesn’t help managers to find out easily about what the quality of services is like,” commented Ofsted as part of a 2015 ‘inadequate’ judgment. “It doesn’t help social workers to find information easily either.”

A council spokesperson said a procurement exercise was under way as part of joint arrangements with neighbouring Plymouth, which took over management of Torbay’s children’s services following a further ‘inadequate’ assessment in 2018.

“We are currently in the process of drafting a specification to help inform our requirements of a new system,” the spokesperson said.

8 Responses to Council to replace social workers’ IT system first installed in 1995

  1. Paul February 1, 2019 at 1:53 pm #

    Is any electronic case management system used by local authorities in social work really fit dkr purpose. There is a saying that the system you need to do the job well is always 10 years ahead in the future.

    A fundamental problem with these systems is that in their design they put the needs of managers and IT people above practitioners. It takes a week of training (more for admin) to be able to use some of these systems and even then you can still get lost in the maze of paths you have to take to do anything. In my experience these systems lack intuitiveness. The best case management aystems I have used in social work have been designed in house – with social work oractitioner at the forefront of their design.

  2. jules February 1, 2019 at 3:34 pm #

    LIquid Logic: neither liquid nor logical. A majority of the stress of being a social worker comes from difficulties recording work when using this system.

    • Sandra February 1, 2019 at 8:42 pm #

      We are just about to get LL and it was sold to us as a system we could effectively design but it’s just the basic system. The testing so far hasn’t given confidence in the usability of the system and the printed documents are really not service user friendly. Be interesting when it goes live.

  3. Glyn February 2, 2019 at 6:34 pm #

    Agree fully with both of these comments… The systems are just not there that means a worker can just get the info on the system and then move on.. Case management systoms mean you’re constantly having to check up on your system to see if something has been agreed or closed etc. Your task lists just send your stress levels into orbit and when the system goes down, we’ll, you’re looking at playing catchup even more than usual! Just another reason I don’t miss working in statutory services!

  4. Carol February 3, 2019 at 8:42 pm #

    Worst system you can ever work with, they will have SW’s going off with stress very quickly, agree with Jules neither liquid or logic. Why do these Councils waste tax payer money on private firms with slick and dubious salesman.
    Shame on you Durham for being conned!

  5. Lesley W February 4, 2019 at 9:54 am #

    Agree, the liquid logic system is awful. I estimate that 80% of stress from my job is due to this. I spend so much time trying to fit what I need to record into the (in my view) not fit for purpose LL

  6. Hels February 13, 2019 at 9:39 pm #

    When systems migrate who are the ones who check all information from one system is fully moved to the incoming system? Can’t figure that one

  7. Me February 17, 2019 at 12:10 pm #

    I can’t even begin to describe my frustration with Liquid Logic. It is the slowest system ever. Basic tasks takes a ridiculous amount of time because of how the system takes to load, and god forbid you click on the wrong thing and have to wait for the curser to stop spinning in order to click back to your starting point (which will start spinning for ages again) and then click on where you actually want to go (cue another spinning twiddling your thumbs moment). And if you click again too fast, boom “cannot connect to server” and the whole thing starts again. It’s a horrid system and the amount of stress it brings is just unreal.

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