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.
More on social workers’ IT problems
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):
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.
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.”