Opinion: There’s more to increasing time with families than improving IT systems

Former children’s social worker and current children’s social care lead at OLM Systems, Paul Clark argues that the onus is on IT systems as a barrier to increasing time with children and families, but there is more to it than that. 

Upon reading a recent report from the County Councils Network (CCN) claiming that social workers could double time spent with families if they had more efficient systems, it led me to think about my journey through social care, from a frontline Children’s Social Worker to a Policy & Procedures Development Manager, to working as a Practise Lead & Solutions Specialist at OLM, helping to design the IT systems social workers use.

As a social worker you want to spend as many hours as possible in your day working directly with the children and families in your caseload. I often found the only way I could work in this manner was to use my official working day, completing home visits, visiting schools and specialist units at the expense of sitting in my office and completing the much chased after paperwork, the assessments, case notes, emails etc.

Whilst this approach meant I knew the children and family’s needs well and we had a good relationship, it came at the expense of meeting my own children and family’s needs as I would find myself every evening, and on most weekends completing the administrative tasks to ensure that all of what I knew was recorded in the IT system, rather than spending quality time with my own family.

Every social worker would have heard the comment if it’s not recorded, it didn’t happen! Something that has been driven by complaints, serious case reviews and the much-dreaded Ofsted inspections.

When I started as a policy and procedures manager for a local authority, I had the goal of making changes that supported children, families and social workers spending more time with one another, to reduce the administrative side of the job.

Whilst this was possible, and I had some success in areas, I did find the challenge was not just the IT system but that of the requirements imposed on children’s social care. The significant amount of legislation, guidance, statutory reporting, local reporting all meant that forms and workflows extended beyond what is the problem and what can we do to help make life better for the child and family members.

In my current role at OLM, it is not only for me to advise on what is best practise and legislative requirements but to also advise on how I see the future of the children’s social care IT system.

It is fair to say that everyone in social care shares the same goals:

  • to make a positive, lasting difference to a child and family (to improve outcomes)
  • to reduce social worker administrative time and to help them be in the place that matters the most (with the child and family)

Whilst these are only two points of many I could write, they seem to go hand in hand, and surely, we have more chance of promoting positive outcomes if we can spend more physical time with the children and families we are trying to support.

brown box

How do we achieve this?

 It would be easy to point the finger at IT solutions, stating they need to work together to share information, they need to auto populate and map relative information from one form or screen to another, they should be mobile by default.

All of this is possible and there are a significant number of solutions and modules that support this way of working, some require additional levels of funding which leads me to local authority funding and budgets – A whole article in itself and one that we hope the Children’s Review will address in the Spring, and for increased Government funding.

My view is that we need to focus on the recording of what really matters to the child and family, and to do this we firstly need to review what is imposed on the local authority to record and the IT Provider to make that available within their system.

Children’s Social Care are required to provide the following statutory returns:

  • Annex A
  • ASGLB Return
  • CiN Census
  • SSDA903 return
  • Social Care Workforce (Caseload report)
  • Ofsted Fostering return

All the above equates to over a thousand items of data that needs to be recorded into the system, multiple times (for every child & family that meets those specific criteria or becomes known to social care) and in most cases it is the social worker that must record all this information.

This is not to mention the localised reporting that individual councils impose on themselves for their own specific way of working and local reporting.

If we are to look at the CiN Census, specifically at the CiN Factors return, this relates to the factors identified during the assessment and is completed as part of every S17 Assessment undertaken by a Social Worker.

This section takes on average two minutes to complete, which doesn’t sound long. However, if we take into account there was 625,960 assessments completed in 2021, which is a 7% decrease on 2020 due to a drop in school referrals (Covid) (Characteristics of children in need, Reporting Year 2021 – Explore education statistics – GOV.UK ( this is the equivalent of 20,865.33 hours of social workers time, time that could have been spent with children and families, all for completing a section of a form that the DfE could not provide my colleague with an answer of who uses this information and for what purpose, other than someone will use it somewhere.

This is one section of an assessment, and I wonder how many more sections, forms etc there is in an entire system, that when we ask why is this recorded, for what purpose, for who’s benefit, we could make additional social worker time savings.

There is ambiguity in what is being collected and no clear links to how some data that is collected feeds into policy making or improving outcomes at central government, even from central government and that creates frustration for both suppliers and practitioners.

In order to achieve our goal, we need to:

  • Have reasonable/valid needs to record data for reporting purposes. Returns should not shape social work practice.
  • Keep the focus on the child and family we are serving/supporting and not statistics.
  • Improve information sharing and recording within IT Systems, or at least take advantage of what is available now. Increase the use of remote professional meetings to save time. We have all said it at least once.. “another meeting that could have been an email/phone call”.  
  • Align legislation and guidance to support social workers to be person facing, not computer facing.
  • Align local authority guidance and best practice to support actual social care practice and protect their time.

We are all expecting answers, guidance and hope from the Children’s Review in Spring and through a process of change and togetherness (social care, government, IT systems providers) we can significantly increase that 20% of social workers time with children and families.

Photo by Tina Floersch


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