IT systems problems at Haringey Council contributed to the failures that led to the death of Baby P, according to the official report into the tragedy, and new systems being introduced across the country could make these failures more likely in future, experts have warned.
The report, by inspectors from Ofsted, the education watchdog, the Healthcare Commission and Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary delivered a range of a range of damning findings.
On IT, it stated bluntly, "The existing social care electronic recording system operated by the council lacks sufficient flexibility and, although this impedes effective practice by social workers, there has been insufficient priority given to resolving this issue by managers."
While highlighting the inflexibility of the systems, the report also noted that the council had an inappropriate reliance on systems at some times.
"All children's social care cases are allocated a social worker. However, workloads are heavy and some staff report that they are unable to action all cases effectively as a result. Some allocations of cases within social care services are made electronically and without discussion with social workers. This does not ensure there is discussion between the manager and social worker about what actions are to be taken," the report stated.
It is precisely this problem which is causing so much concern among social workers and IT professionals who are implementing the government's new Integrated Care System. The ICS is a recording data-sharing system and performance management system that aims to help social workers to identify and deal with children at risk. It also enables managers to monitor performance and keep on top of targets and compliance needs.
However, one expert with detailed knowledge of the ICS and its implementation told ComputerWorldUK, "The problems with the systems as they are generally being implemented is that social workers and their managers are gong to be driven by having to meet targets on the system, but the warnings that flash up in front of them are too often not focussed on the child but on pieces of work that are due. It is far too easy to lose a sense of what is important in the struggle to keep up with system generated messages.
"What should have been a major step forward, sensibly using technology to give a rounded view of children at risk and their interaction with different agencies, has become over bureaucratised.
"The forms on which ICS is based, largely the concept of academics, were meant to be exemplars of best practice, but were taken literally by senior officials at the Department for Children, Schools and Families, and made mandatory.
"As a result, social workers have to fill in extremely long forms full of tick boxes. Inevitably, many forms are half filled in and it becomes very difficult to find the important information."
The government has promised a new inspection regime in the aftermath of the Baby P tragedy. It remains to be seen whether it will order a review of the Integrated Care System or not.
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