A Shropshire council has become the first in the UK to put in place a system for electronically sharing assessments of vulnerable children with other public sector agencies.
Telford and Wrekin Borough Council has gone live with its Information Sharing and Assessment service and expects other agencies to use it to request social workers' assessments of vulnerable children in electronic form.
The move comes ahead of the publication next month of guidance from the Department for Education and Skills on best practice for sharing assessment records. The guidance is part of efforts to prevent a repeat of the death of Victoria Climbi‚, when agencies' failure to share information prevented earlier intervention that may have prevented her death.
Telford and Wrekin Borough Council piloted a limited version of its Information Sharing and Assessment application in 2004-2005, which provided users with an index of childcare practitioners who had visited children, but had no electronic assessment of their needs.
"The thing we learned from the pilot was that agencies want to be signposted to other agencies that have contact with young people," said Sara Tough, Telford and Wrekin's senior manager with the Change for Children programme.
Before the system was introduced, social workers and other childcare practitioners had to phone around agencies to find out what work was being done on behalf of an at-risk child.
With the new system, practitioners are given different levels of access to the information in the assessment records, depending on the organisation they work for and their role within it.
At the moment, the agency that created the original assessment still needs to give practitioners at other agencies permission before they can view a particular record.
Tough said, "Historically, agencies all have their own assessment arrangements, but they do not join up with one another. Part of this cultural change is to get involved much earlier with a child."
The Information Sharing and Assessment application was developed by consultancy Ciber using Microsoft's Biztalk framework.
Telford and Wrekin's pilot project
Telford and Wrekin Borough Council piloted its Information Sharing and Assessment system with more than 1,000 child welfare practitioners. They represented 71 schools, eight social work teams, 11 specialist local education authority teams, eight Connexions teams, two family protection units from the police, two youth offending teams and eight health centres.
The pilot covered both Telford and Wrekin and Shropshire County Council. Between them, the two local authorities had responsibility for more than 40,000 children.