Can IT improvements help prevent another Baby P case?

A range of measures to try to improve the IT used by social workers have been announced, after a report found poor IT played a role in the failures at Haringey Council that led to the death of 17-month-old Baby Peter.

A range of measures to try to improve the IT used by social workers have been announced, after a report found poor IT played a role in the failures at Haringey Council that led to the death of 17-month-old Baby Peter.

The government has ruled out creating a national IT system, but will attempt to improve the current network of local systems by increasing flexibility and removing unnecessary features.

Social workers and council IT staff will be given more control over how they comply with the national requirements, a deadline for implementation will be relaxed to allow local problems to be ironed out, and more support will be available for councils which are assessing their system's usability.

IT problems highlighted

A recent report on the state of child protection in Britain highlighted a number of problems with the local implementations of the case management system, the Integrated Children's System (ICS).

Poor implementation and management of the ICS was cited as a factor in the failure of Haringey Council to properly protect Baby Peter, who died in 2007 at the hands of his mother, her boyfriend and their lodger.

Lord Laming, who wrote the report, said of progress in social care departments, "The current state of the technology - particularly the local IT systems that support the use of the ICS - is hampering progress."

Laming, a former social worker, has compiled two reports into the state of children's services in the UK, and had plenty to say on the IT used by social workers in both cases.

In 2003, he produced a report following the death of 8-year-old Victoria Climbie, who died at the hands of her aunt and her aunt's boyfriend, despite opportunities to remove her from their care. That led to the creation of the ICS.

This year he wrote a report in the wake of the death of Baby Peter, finding progress on his reforms to be slow.

IT is hampering progress

Laming recommended that the ICS be transformed into a national system, saying its current incarnation is hampering progress and stopping social workers from spending time with children and families.

"Professional practice and judgement, as said by many who contributed evidence to this report, are being compromised by an over-complicated, lengthy and tick-box assessment and recording system," he said.

Laming said the government should either roll out a single system, or find a way to "assert stronger leadership" over the local systems and providers.

Councils have already raised concerns about how compatible the ICS is with their own systems, making effective implementation difficult. And overly prescriptive guidelines from the government have not helped.

Dave Wastell, professor of information systems at the University of Nottingham, says rejecting a national system was a good idea.

"A national system would be an expensive disaster. The general software methodology for ICS was wise and sound, but they took the specification too far, so that it became a straight-jacket - too detailed, too rigid and too prescriptive," he says.

The Social Work Task Force will report on progress in UK social care in October this year, and will include comments on the ICS. The government says further reforms of the system are likely.

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