Case study: Borough of Poole uses Huddle for child adoption meetings

The Borough of Poole has been using Huddle to enable local government teams to collaborate securely on issues of child welfare

The Borough of Poole is using Huddle to enable local government teams to collaborate securely on issues of child welfare.

The cloud-based collaboration software is used by the foster and adoption panel and the legal services’ childcare team to prepare panel members for meetings where they discuss and match potential adoptive parents with children.

The local authority is saving up to £60,000 a year on printing costs by moving legal bundles and other large documents to the Huddle platform.

The child protection case documents can run to 4,000 pages – equivalent to five lever-arch files. Huddle enables the council to distribute digital copies of the necessary papers securely to council workers, as well as barristers and solicitors.

Prior to the introduction of Huddle, sharing documents with third parties took a lot of time and effort. Documents used to be encrypted and emailed, but attachments were often too large, causing systems to crash. Alternatively, Poole council would put the encrypted documents on a CD, or even print them out, and courier them to the required destination, sometimes as far as Scotland. 

Saving trees with iPads

Adoption panel meetings at the Borough of Poole involve two members of the council and a further 10 independent members with specialisms, such as volunteer doctors or ex-school teachers, who are semi-retired and wish to help the community.

These 12 people meet once a month to approve couples as potential adoptive parents and match them with children who are on the adoption register. Each member of the panel would need to read through all the case bundles prior to the monthly meeting.

As soon as we looked at the Huddle cloud collaboration platform, we knew we had found the answer to our paperless initiative

Liz Hall, Borough of Poole

A year ago, Liz Hall, business manager for legal and democratic services at the Borough of Poole, was tasked with running an iPad pilot to try to reduce the dependency on hard copy materials, which run into the thousands of sheets of paper. 

These documents include reports from social workers, various forms, references and site visit reports, and each adoption panel can work on up to 10 cases a month. This is not only bad for the environment, but very costly.

Hall began the transition to digital documents by giving each adoption panel member an iPad and allowing them to get used to the feel of the device at home.

“Most of members weren’t used to working flexibly, and they weren’t comfortable with IT, so it was a bit of a battle to start with to get people to use iPads,” she says.

After introducing the devices, however, Hall says attitudes began to change, but they took things slowly so as not to overwhelm the group. For several weeks, the panel was still provided with hard-copy documents, but also required to bring the iPads.

Choosing the right collaboration tool

Hall had first considered using Dropbox to share the documents, but was advised by the council IT team that it was not secure enough. One IT person suggested Huddle as an option, because the planning department had been successfully using it.

“As soon as we looked at the Huddle cloud collaboration platform, we knew we had found the answer to our paperless initiative,” she said. “Huddle allows the council to access, share and update documents, both internally and externally, with third parties.

At this point, Hall realised Huddle could be used not only across the panel and the council, but with wider third parties such as legal teams. “It was like killing two birds with one stone,” she says.

The members of the adoption panel received onsite training, which Huddle came and helped with.     

“Some people still have a few issues, but it’s about building confidence and using it on a more regular basis,” says Hall. The 12 panel members are not using Huddle every day, only for 12 hours a month, so it takes time for those who are not very comfortable with IT to become an expert at using the devices.

A welcome productivity boost

But the general consensus from the team is that they wouldn’t go back to using paper. They also find it really productive to be able to start discussions on Huddle before the monthly meeting.

And these discussions are not lost – users can leave a comment or receive notifications around all activity for any file and send a request for document approval. All of these actions are tracked and stored in Huddle’s audit trail.

“These cases can run over many years, so it’s imperative to maintain clear, consistent and continual collaboration. With Huddle, nothing is missed or overlooked,” says Hall.

The borough has now increased its Huddle licence agreement from 25 to 75 people, so it can be used more widely across the authority.

“It’s nice to see people working more efficiently and proactively, along with the savings we see for the council and to the taxpayer – it’s good all round,” she says.

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