Poor implementation and lack of oversight of a popular social work case management system left a council unable to track the whereabouts of children in its care, a committee meeting has heard.
An audit report presented yesterday, which set out to investigate overspending on children looked after and with special educational needs, found no one at Surrey council had responsibility for the LiquidLogic software.
This left the authority – twice rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted and in the throes of a major transformation – unable to fulfil its duties as a corporate parent or to reliably track payments to care providers or foster parents.
“There is no single, clear set of procedure notes for LCS, contributing to inconsistent and/or incorrect recording of information,” the audit report said, describing a LiquidLogic module that is meant to track children’s journeys through care.
“The ineffective use of systems has resulted in inaccurate and unreliable data, which hinders financial monitoring, precludes the availability of meaningful management information, and prevents the council from fulfilling statutory duties,” the report added.
‘It ought to support social workers, but doesn’t’
Surrey’s audit report was prepared during summer 2018 on the orders of the council’s chief executive, Joanna Killian. But the final version was delayed, in part because of comings and goings in children’s services senior management, according to director of children’s services Dave Hill.
Hill, who spoke to Community Care recently about his ongoing plans for Surrey, told the council’s children and education select committee that children were no longer at risk but that the way the LiquidLogic system had been customised after its 2009 installation had “not been smart”.
“It’s been done in a way where we took the core product and played around with it, creating issues and problems,” he said. “It ought to support social workers, but doesn’t.”
David John, Surrey’s audit performance manager, said that managers had failed to get staff to understand the importance of using the system properly.
“Lots of staff are under pressure, and it might have seemed like a bureaucratic add-on, not an integral part of their day-to-day business,” he said. While the report found many officers were aware of problems with the LiquidLogic system, John denied that any one individual should be blamed for them, or that anyone had behaved criminally.
Surrey’s most recent ‘inadequate’ judgment, from 2018, warned that social workers were being poorly served by electronic systems, denying them “the right basic tools for their work”. Admin pressures, including those caused by user-unfriendly IT systems, are frequently cited by social workers as contributing to stress and burnout.
Earlier in 2019, Community Care reported that Durham council was installing LiquidLogic to replace a “not fit for purpose” system that had been in place since the 1990s.
Surrey’s audit was unable to find any business case or paper trail supporting a cabinet decision to purchase LiquidLogic in the first place.
It also found that a second system, ContrOCC, which was meant to interface with LiquidLogic to facilitate automated payments, lacked “sufficient buy-in” from children’s services leaders and so was barely being used by the directorate.
Auditors were also unable to establish how much had been spent on the systems, which they blamed on poor record keeping and staff turnover.
Hill told councillors that a “top-to-bottom review” of LiquidLogic was under way, essentially in order to return it to factory settings.
He added that new ‘gateway teams’, rather than individual social workers, now held purse-strings and that there would be an underspend on care placements this financial year.
The meeting agreed to carry out a further audit of Surrey’s IT systems during summer 2020.