How a social work computer management system is made

The managing director of the biggest provider of social work computer management systems explains what goes into them

folders coming out of laptop
Photo: fotolia/wax

by David Grigsby, managing director of Liquidlogic

Delivering software for children’s social care is challenging, partly because some of the requirements could be seen to conflict with one another. Given that social workers are busy, the software must be quick and easy to use. However, managers want the software to guide social workers through good practice, which can slow them down, and Ofsted want to see a comprehensive history of events when they review a case file.

In addition to this, the performance team requires the capture of significant amounts of data, so that they can generate the statutory reports. You can add to the mix that every local authority operates differently, wants to configure the software to support their way of working AND the agenda is constantly changing.

So, just as children’s social care is a complex and demanding service, so this is a complex and demanding IT requirement. This explains why social care IT is a niche market with just a handful of suppliers – it isn’t easy. In the last 15 years several very big IT companies that serve local government thought that they could simply ‘bend’ their existing system for social care. All of them failed. To work in this market, you have to be focused on it. It is specialist.

So how do we develop social care software, how do we deploy it, and why is it that some councils are happier with it than others?

  • Development

Deciding what we develop, and then designing it, is done between customers and our analysts, a number of whom are qualified social workers. We have online forums, national and regional user groups, and smaller customer focus groups that shape our product roadmap; and finally, a product board with customer representatives that makes the final decision about what enhancements we group into each release. It is genuine co-production.

  • Implementing a new system

To implement a system, we don’t simply drop the software into a customer site, wish them luck and wave goodbye. Because each authority manages their service differently, there are better outcomes if the product is tailored for each customer, and we provide support for this. While all our customers use the same product, there is flexibility in the ‘configuration’. For example, around how a customer sets the flow of tasks; what needs authorising and by whom; when alerts trigger; the content of the assessments, plans and forms; all of which can be locally controlled.

Our analysts and social workers guide customers through a series of workshops which define the configuration and result in us delivering back a configured system. We have some out of the box good practice models that can speed this process – some of our own and some authored by others, such as Family Safeguarding and Signs of Safety,- but authorities usually want to put their local stamp on system configuration.

But you may ask why you should have to pay attention to the system at all? Why can’t it just be simple and work?! Well, we could facilitate that by delivering a pre-configured system based on our view of good practice…but we have tried that and it rarely works. Rightly or wrongly, every council wants to configure the system to their practice and procedures, and if the system doesn’t reflect these it causes problems.

Yes, there are some out of the box configuration models, but they divide opinion and tend not to cover the whole service spectrum, and let’s not forget that we had a national model once, it was called Integrated Children’s System (ICS), and it didn’t go down so well.

  • Maintaining a good system

Once the system is live, authorities begin to learn about the aspects of their configuration that are working well and those that need tweaking, and it pays dividends to monitor and refine the system configuration on an ongoing basis. However, the importance of this is not always recognised. The difference between a council that uses the system well and gets good returns from it, and one that doesn’t, can be down to just one person who understands what the product can do and has the authority to flex it to match the local service. This bridge between the product and the service is a vital role and one that is often best done by a senior social worker who has an appetite for using the system. You don’t have to be technical; you just have to be curious.

Why the system needs to be engaged with

I will give an example of what can happen if this is not done. A customer called recently with a worrying concern. Social workers said that it was too time consuming to make a child subject of a child protection (CP) plan on the system and instead they were keeping separate spreadsheets. This is clearly dangerous.

When we investigated it transpired that when the software was first implemented some years previously, the service had just been criticised for not adequately evidencing why they had been making children subject of CP plans; so at that time they chose to configure the system to make it mandatory for a CP conference pre-meeting report to be recorded on the system before the child could be made subject of a CP Plan. Also, their pre-meeting report was long, with lots of mandatory questions. These settings were designed, by them, to ensure a full audit trail around any CP decision.

However, as time moved on and staffing levels reduced, the social workers became frustrated with having to fill in the long pre-meeting report and stopped doing so, and this had the knock on effect of them not being able to make the child subject of a CP plan on the system. We spotted this very quickly. Changing the configuration literally took seconds – the pre-meeting report is no longer mandatory for a child to be able to have a CP plan. The customer also simplified and shortened their pre-meeting report – something which is quick to do. The process has been streamlined by the customer, with guidance from us, and the problem has been resolved.

This was a classic example of a service being frustrated with a problem which was rooted in their own configuration choices, and which they had the tools to change.

So, what is my point? It is that feeding, watering and engaging with your system is a vital part of running social services, and the management of the system needs to be embedded within the service. Suppliers like us also have a big responsibility, of course, and we need to keep improving on our software and services; but there are significant gains to be had for many authorities if they can more effectively apply the technology they already have, and this deserves management focus. A well-configured system makes a real contribution to service quality and staff happiness and retention. In the current climate, this is more important than ever.

14 Responses to How a social work computer management system is made

  1. Jim S June 11, 2019 at 10:21 pm #

    But does that explain why your IT system always seems to be having performance issues or is even down when I need to use it. I am not technical but I don’t think configuration can be blamed for the system being slow or down?

  2. David Grigsby June 12, 2019 at 9:18 am #

    No that is true. The system being down can be due to us (the supplier), or it can be due to local infrastructure, or a mixture of both. But you are right, it is not due to configuration.

  3. John Woods June 12, 2019 at 7:29 pm #

    Part of the problem is LAs trying to manage their service. They should trust their staff and manage by getting involved not putting gates into the system.

  4. Mohammed Eijaz June 12, 2019 at 10:48 pm #

    I personally think that we have the wrong leaders on board.. To be fair they are not to be blamed, most of the managers/leaders are from the era of pen and paper. They just do not understand what a computer is capable of doing. Hence they cannot implement a computer system in place that is capable of saving money and time for both social workers and the local authority. For example one local authority is about to change their system, but they hired a social worker with no IT knowledge. Why was that?, because if the manager who hires does not understand computers, how will they know that a social worker with computer knowledge would have been a much better suit to implement the new system.

    The present systems in place a huge waste of public money, essentially it makes social workers expensive secretaries to do the tedious work that the computer management system.

    I loathe the system that are in currently used, better just go the old paper style, saving cost of hiring a huge IT company to make the system inefficient. IT companies will do what you ask of them, just like programming. So who ever leads the project for change need to understand what to programme into the system.

  5. Julia June 16, 2019 at 11:00 pm #

    What a nightmare of a system, always communicating with server, trying to get into a large case can take over half an hour, as workers we just do not have the time, repetitive and there have been 5 forms to do as part of one process, for example pathway plan review
    Chronology well let’s not get me started, worst thing ever and the thing just goes round and round
    Safe to say I am not a fan and makes our work harder

    • Melanie Holmes June 18, 2019 at 9:53 am #

      Hi Julia

      I head up the marketing team at Liquidlogic and would really like to talk to you directly about these issues. If you’re happy to do that, my e mail: melanie.holmes@liquidlogic.co.uk. Look forward to hearing from you.

      Thanks

      Melanie

  6. Daniel June 26, 2019 at 4:35 am #

    We’re still quite new to LAS, so I may not know all it’s functions yet. I find it quite a logical system in terms of the process, but I do think it could be more enabling than it is. While I appreciate that computer systems work in real time, unfortunately people do not. This can make it quite hard to see the wood for the trees and prioritising specific reviews can be hard without using different trays. I would suggest a few things that could help. For instance, filtering a tray by priorities. Allowing a change of colour to priorities, adding a function to select all tasks and case to drag and drop. Care planning and service provisioning is very complicated. The safeguarding process is also every clicky which find to do in 1 day, but when spread over longer periods its hard to remember what to do.

    In addition, there are certain processes I don’t think it will allow that the law and social care process will (unless my LA have these turned off). For instance, completing an enablement plan before the assessment, or providing services before the assessment is complete.

    • Chris Sweeney June 26, 2019 at 3:32 pm #

      Hi Daniel,
      Thanks for your comments.

      It sounds like the majority of the issues you have described are down to local configuration decisions – for example, a profile right may be allocated to allow a worker to complete an enablement/reablement plan without doing an assessment. Similarly, by configuration, services may be commissioned and activated prior to the plan being created and then either be ceased or be brought into the plan once the assessment is ready and the plan starting to be formulated.

      Worktray tasks can have priority allocated (click the spanner on the right), and trays can be grouped or ordered by priority level; all tasks can be moved with the case by reassigning the case worker role (subject to permissions). Your local support can also configure “filter” trays to assist in creating specific views of trays for particular purposes (e.g. overdue reviews for a particular team split into particular support reasons, or DOLS with planned expiry date and managing authority listed in additional columns). While your suggestion of colour coding tasks would certainly help some people, we need to be very careful in that regard – some colour blind people for example may not be able to tell whether a task background was red or green, and we also have a number of users with other sight issues which it is important for us to ensure we do not exclude.

      Safeguarding also has with it a wealth of configuration, and many authorities opt to simplify the process by ensuring that not every step is used and enabled simply because it is there – use of clever and fine forms design, coupled with consistent instructional guidance embedded within the process also can be used to make workers lives easier.

      As part of our roadmap we take on board design comments raised by authorities and try to provide options to simplify the system for end users as much as is possible (given the complexity of the data needing to be recorded); however, authorities also need to do their part in specifying forms that are simple to use and make use of the functionality, and also configure the systems in such a way to give their staff the most straightforward route through the product as is possible.

      I’d be happy to discuss further with yourself or with your business/systems team,
      Thanks
      Chris Sweeney
      Liquidlogic Adults Social Care Lead

  7. Melanie Holmes June 26, 2019 at 3:07 pm #

    Hi Daniel

    I have spoken to our adults’ team lead here and it does sound like the majority of the issues you have described are down to local configuration decisions. I have a more complete answer which addresses each area that you mention above, but am conscious that this is an open forum and would like to send it separately.

    My e mail address is melanie.holmes@liquidlogic.co.uk. If you would like to make contact, I will send on our product lead’s thoughts.

    Thanks

    Melanie

  8. Lorraine June 26, 2019 at 9:26 pm #

    Can I please ask why the CSE module does not sit across LCS and EHM. This has caused a significant gap in our EHS and MASH recording cases where CSE concerns have been raised, which in turn is having an impact on our performance data and Borough oversight of young people vulnerable to and at risk of CSE. Thank you.

  9. Melanie Holmes June 27, 2019 at 10:38 am #

    Hi Lorraine

    I put your question to the children’s team here. The generic CSE workspace sits in LCS, but the existence of this workspace can be shared with EHM through Atom for example.

    Happy to go through that in more detail if you would like to contact me melanie.holmes@liquidlogic.co.uk.

    Thanks

    Melanie

  10. Christine June 28, 2019 at 8:37 am #

    How embarrassing that system users are having to air their issues on a public forum rather than having the confidence and relationship in place with their supplier to go directly to them to sort these things out. Some of which should have been addressed at implementation stage by the sounds of it. Seems to be a common problem amongst our user community of LL, happy to sell you a wonderful story but deliver poor implementations and ongoing support is terrible.

    • Melanie Holmes June 28, 2019 at 1:16 pm #

      Hi Christine

      I am puzzled by this as we have direct relationships and regular meetings with all of our customers. There will be people in your authority involved in these, and you are welcome to contact us directly or talk to the people in your authority who manage the relationship with us.

      Our systems are built in consultation with customers and as you have rightly pointed out, getting the configuration at implementation stage is fundamental in providing a system. Whilst our team can and do provide advice around this, the customer will always have the final say. Each Council has different processes and, in many cases, users of the system in different areas of the business have differing opinions (social workers, senior management, IT, etc). Balancing requirements of all parties along with statutory requirements can be tricky.

      These conversations are not embarrassing and we don’t want customers to feel like you have been “sold a wonderful story”, so if you have any specific issues, please feel free to contact me by e mail melanie.holmes@liquidlogic.co.uk.

      Kind regards

      Melanie

  11. J Taylor June 28, 2019 at 5:37 pm #

    The challenge for Liquid Logic is that all L/A’s want to configure the processes slightly differently and over time with internal pressures to record different things, social workers and managers are required to record or evidence their thinking, decision making and day to day interventions in more and more detail. We then get to the point where we are writing case notes and managers decisions in great detail. If you then overlay an approach such as SOS social workers and managers are being forced to record in a certain way that meets the needs of the organisation rather than the family.

    Having worked in a L/A that used Liquid Logic for 10 years it is clear that all they have tried to do is respond to L/A’s requests and make the system as configurable as possible. The reality is that L/A’s need to support workers more effectively rather than expect a recording system to do it for them.