60% of social workers have work disrupted every week by case management system

A survey by Community Care also found three-quarters of social workers weren't consulted before a new case management system was introduced

Photo: PhotoSG/Fotolia

More than half of social workers have their ability to do their jobs disrupted by their case management systems every week, a survey of practitioners in England has found.

Social workers from across the workforce and country told Community Care they frequently had issues completing their day-to-day work as a result of case management systems, and half described their experiences with computer systems in their career as ‘mostly negative’.

Almost 1 in 10 of 655 respondents to a question about how often case management systems affected their day-to-day job said they had issues more than once a day, while twice as many said this happened every day, and almost a third said it occurred a couple of times a week.

In total, almost 60% had problems every week, rising to 80% over a fortnight.

Two thirds said it would be important to know the details of the case management system of a prospective employer when researching or seeking a new job, and half said the presence of a case management system they viewed negatively would to affect their decision to join a new employer.

‘Taking up so much precious time’

One social worker told us how they were trained in a new system before it went live but the live system did not work the way it was taught.

Another said: “The IT system is hard to navigate, it is hard to find things, we have not been shown how to use the system, the system routinely does not work daily, we cannot print from the case management system which impact[s] on sending  letters and care plans to service users, it causes so much stress to staff.”

One reported being “’locked out’ [of] work steps because the system has timed out – it has caused me to lose an entire assessment before”.

“It feels like the system is taking up so much precious time that I should be spending either with service users or planning my interventions with families. I feel like my practice is compromised as a result of the computer system,” another social worker said.

A Freedom of Information request sent by Community Care and answered by 124 councils for children’s services and 120 for adults’ found the breakdown of the most popular IT systems used by councils to be (with the company currently owning the system in brackets):

Children’s Adults
LiquidLogic 44% 34%
Mosaic (Servelec) 24% 26%
CareFirst (OLM) 8% 14%
Frameworki (Servelec) 6% 6%
CareDirector 3% 3%
Swift (OLM) 3% 7%
Other 12% 10%

Despite the importance of case management systems in recording vital information about cases, and the impact of systems problems on the workforce, 73% said they were not consulted when the local authority implemented a new case management system.

Key stats:

56% of respondents worked in children’s services, 33% adults, 6% mental health.

87% worked in local authorities.

More than 60% had more than six years’ experience.

Half said their experiences with case management systems were ‘mostly negative’, while 39% said they were ‘mostly positive’.

A third said they had a ‘mostly negative’ experience of claiming expenses, while 44% said they had ‘mostly positive’ experiences.

54% had mobile equipment updated in the past three-to-five years, 23% over six years ago, and 22% in the past two years.

43% of social workers said they could not access case management systems on mobile equipment.

Rachael Wardell, chair of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) workforce development policy committee, told Community Care the ADCS was clear that good practice when implementing new systems was “to involve the people who will use it day to day at every stage, from specifying what the new system needs to do, through to user acceptance testing, delivering training and designing post-implementation support”.

Wardell added: “The more purposeful the involvement of the core users of the system in its implementation, the more likely the system will successfully support essential recording and reporting.”

“Despite the impact of austerity, which has halved our budgets since 2010 at the same time as the level of need in our communities has risen significantly, local authorities are doing a range of things to better support social workers and to make sure they aren’t overly burdened with administration, including investing in their IT systems and in dedicated administrative support teams. We continue to strive to resolve issues that impact on social workers or inhibit the vital work they do with children and families. I would encourage all local authorities to heed the messages of this survey.”

Building a case management system

Responding to the findings, David Grigsby, managing director at LiquidLogic, said case management systems are developed with social workers’ assistance, but there are factors beyond providers’ control that can impact on the user experience.

“For example, customers require our software to mandate the capture of data required for the statutory framework and reports, and we understand that this can frustrate social workers. Also, customers make their own choices about how the software is configured, especially around the forms and the workflow, and this too can have an effect on how the system is perceived,” Grigsby explained.

He added: “We try and design the software to both support good practice and free up social worker’s time, but local configuration decisions have a bearing on this. The more you try and enforce good practice via workflow and data capture in the software, the more likely you are to frustrate busy social workers. We work with local authorities to try and help them find the right balance with this, and would encourage all customers to involve social workers in the configuration of their system, as our most successful customers already do.”

Results are ‘unsurprising’

Mark Raeburn, director at OLM, said: “Unfortunately the results are not surprising, the majority of social care systems are based with old technology with all the performance issues and usability issues that come with that. The technology you use in your everyday life is mobile, simple to use and always easy to access. This is the bar that social care software suppliers should be aiming at.

“Social worker feedback and input is so essential in the development of any system. We developed our latest social care system ECLIPSE with input of over 500 social workers and their input was hugely valuable. Change is coming to social care and technology will be a important part of this transformation. Before investing in new software I would recommend that the local authority always runs user testing, rather than only view the system via a demonstration.”

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15 Responses to 60% of social workers have work disrupted every week by case management system

  1. Chris Sterry June 7, 2019 at 1:55 pm #

    Sheffield CC now use liquid Logic instead of Care First, I do wonder if Sheffield was one of the 120 or so councils that responded and if they were what their percentages were.

  2. Jim S June 7, 2019 at 2:28 pm #

    Of course, it is not Liquidlogic systems fault…..lots of local decisions causing those issues. Reminds me of Trump this week stating he did not see any protests (or maybe just a small one). Head in the sand!!!!

  3. Ken B June 7, 2019 at 3:59 pm #

    I am a software trainer for one of these case management systems, with twelve years of intense experience as a trainer and trouble-shooter. And with experience of training/support contact with hundreds through to a few thousand workers when staff turnover is taken into account across twelve years. I am working for a local authority which still makes a very generous provision of training and floorwalking assistance with the case management system.

    Many workers make the arrogant assumption that they have nothing to learn. Even when different local authorities have different customisations of the same system. Not only that, but when they do make mistakes they are often incredibly resistant to accepting the help which is available to rectify the problems. There are repeated very very basic issues such as failing to record court orders or evidence important documents or listing the current address, for which there is NO excuse for failing to include in a service user’s file. Yet I’ve seen this again and again and again.

    Far too many workers refuse to learn how the system actually works, and despite ample training and advice being available to them they live in their own fantasy world and insist on attempting to use it in ways that it either wasn’t designed to perform, or they look for information in ways which are guaranteed to produce distorted and poor results. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve shown a worker how to use a function, only to be told ‘I prefer to do it my way’ even when their way was certain to produce a misleading out-turn.

    Having a tantrum about how you think the system ought to work is not adult, professional, congruent, or realistic. Software does not alter its behaviour because of peer pressure. Just like operating any piece of equipment it takes some effort to use it effectively, and using it incorrectly produces bad outcomes. Driving a car into a river and shouting that it ought to work like a boat is a pretty good analogy for the behaviour of some of the complaining workers. And it never does any harm to actually read the instructions displayed on screen rather than just complaining that something doesn’t work.

    A great many problems are self-inflicted troubles and it is well overdue for professionals to take proper ownership of some of the avoidable difficulties that they create for themselves. We would expect families to own their troubles in order to effect change when we intervene in their lives. Why should professionals repeatedly fail to accept what they could do to make their lives go smoother when another expert tries to help them in a similar manner?

    That said, none of the systems are perfect, and dwindling resources in local authorities do affect the back office as well as the front line, meaning that most organisations cannot change parts of systems as quickly as they wish, or to provide equipment as promptly as they would like. No network can be perfect or be 100% reliable all the time when we live in a world of cyber-attacks. But people really shouldn’t spend hours working on a document without doing regular saves and then complain about lost work. And if part of a system needs to be altered to reflect a change of practice, they can flag this professionally through an appropriate channel, rather than undermine the organisation by deciding they know best and will do the work in Word.

    It’s far too easy for workers to blame the computer rather than take some responsibility for learning how to use it properly.

    I don’t suppose you’ll want this feedback as it’s better news for social workers to use the software that they’ve never learned to operate as the excuse for their misfortunes.

    • mindful June 10, 2019 at 5:24 pm #

      Have to agree with most of what Ken says; the issue is less about the actual systems which largely do the same thing in slightly different ways and more about the fact that there appears to be a high level of digital incompetence with certain professions which when compounded by the resource constraints and the poor management oversight make for fairly chaotic and very unreliable case recording.

      In our LA we have seen a reduction from 5 days of training for our case management software to one day with an aspiration to go e-learning which some LAs are already doing. As a professional educator I have been astounded by the low levels of computer competence I see daily in social care, but then is this any wonder when the qualifying programs for certain professionals pay little if any attention to the ‘skills’ required in a modern workplace. (If you doubt what I’m saying look at the professional capabilities framework for SW and you will see only a few token implied mentions of technology and effective record keeping.

      The best Social Workers embrace technology and see it as a force for good which can make their lives easier and develop the skills to use the technology whereas there are sadly too many SWs who blame the system. The phrase ‘A bad workman blames his tools’ comes to mind.

    • Fred June 15, 2019 at 9:04 am #

      Totally agree with Ken

  4. George Gale snr June 7, 2019 at 11:32 pm #

    Agree case managers why. If can’t don’t won’t allow the people do the job without interference. They sat in office judging I know several left not allowed do a proper job. Not rip every kid from home but helping advice, seems this massive issue needs fast robust action. I would question validity of recorded info .. it could be days after visit.

    I don’t give praise to the workers but i agree thier work hindered by the sheer amount chiefs leaving frontline to face frustrated families..

  5. Biffy June 9, 2019 at 8:00 am #

    We had new forms introduced that do not allow previous information to carry through resulting in huge amounts of additional work. We received limited training on the new forms and have been unable to make changes as it is bought in from SOS . It makes our work more complicated when it does not need to be and managers not filling out the form do not have a clue.

  6. Paul June 9, 2019 at 11:06 am #

    Biggest problems are no national system which was original intent but Blair government never made its mind up. Second…local authorities may use same system but configure differently with raft of not-fit-for purpose templates. These usually dreamt up by senior managers who have fogotten what job entails and IT workers whose only interest is pulling performance figures. Paper files had lots advantages when it came to a new worker reading up on case. But then, what government ever came up with an IT system works? NHS cost a bomb and scrapped. YOT one useless. And dont start me on universal credit

    • Anne June 9, 2019 at 11:08 am #

      I worked with Paul few times as locum. He stays tm level knows these sytems inside out and social work. They ought employ him

  7. Disillusioned June 10, 2019 at 1:45 pm #

    iT is not to be blamed but it is management who offer no support whatsoever.

  8. Fog June 11, 2019 at 12:56 pm #

    part of the problem is that these case management systems are commissioned by and developed primarily for managers rather than practitioners – which is probably why social workers aren’t properly consulted about them.

    Having used a number of them they are made far more complicated than they need to be they should be much more intuitive in terms of how to use them.

    I no longer work for a Local authority and the case management system I use for the vol org I work for is brilliant. It was developed by the organisation for the role I do and – no surprises – supports me rather than gets in the way.

  9. chris June 11, 2019 at 4:55 pm #

    I’ve worked on the same system for a few authorities who’ve each set up that same system very differently.
    In some LAs it’s been clear that there has been Social Work involvement into the design of the system and I’ve seen practitioners working constructively in partnership with IT staff to refine and improve things.
    In other LAs, it’s been quite clear that the IT department has been given or has assumed free rein to gear the system up purely towards management information rather than hands-on casework, and there’s been a arms-length relationship between social work and IT staff.

  10. Helen June 12, 2019 at 4:38 pm #

    I have worked on the implementation of our IT system (Liquidlogic) as a Social Worker and all social work teams were asked to attend meetings to look at how we were setting it up and to look at form design etc. The plan was that it would be created for social workers by social workers.
    Understanding both sides of it all I think LA’s need to make sure that they are putting the same amount of support into keeping it going as they do initially if not the system doesn’t keep up with all the changes that they make.
    I also think if we understand our jobs and know what we need to be doing and recording and the importance of this and we do it in a timely manner like we should then the IT system will work for you rather than against you.
    Most of the systems now pull information through so enter it in the right place once and you never have to enter it again – much better than having to rewrite (or cut and paste) into word documents.

  11. Michael Watson June 12, 2019 at 7:14 pm #

    I am not an I.T worker. I dont design software. I dont spend a lot of time online. Im just an ordinary person. I used to work for Siemens and Fujitsu. Their computer systems worked perfectly for the most part. Easy to understand and get around. Sadly most I.T systems I use dont seem to be designed for use of people like me, they are designed by designers for designers or at least what designers think we need or use and those people complain when people who arnt “in to” i.t cant use the systems they design. I have a very simple test that a person at Siemens told me when designing software, its the grandparent test. If you can bring your grandparent into work, sit them down in front of the computer screen and with some simple instruction they can easily learn their way around then the software is good. If they cant then its not going to work and needs re design.

  12. Gayle June 19, 2019 at 4:56 pm #

    Hear hear Michael….that’s all I’m going to say !!