Social workers’ time is wasted on ‘complex and repetitive’ IT system

The Integrated Children’s System (ICS) has failed to reduce social workers’ working hours, according to a report from the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF).

Research carried out by Loughborough University for the DCSF found widespread concerns that time spent using ICS was taking social workers away from direct contact with children and families.

Based on focus group interviews during 2007/08, the researchers also found social workers were spending on average 10 extra hours a week at work above their contracted hours, which many struggled to recoup in time off in lieu.

This was the same level of extra hours cited when similar focus groups were carried out in 2001/02.

Poor design of the ICS was a factor in social workers having to work late, the report says. The system was branded as “problematic to navigate” and “complex and repetitive”. It was found that in some cases the system logged out after a short period of time, meaning inputted work was lost.

One social worker interviewed said it took a whole day to complete a placement information record through the ICS. Previously, it had taken the worker just 30 minutes, although researchers do acknowledge that time spent inputting data will decrease as workers get more used to the system.

However, Nushra Mansuri, professional officer at the British Association of Social Workers, said: “Since these focus groups were carried out, the problems have not got better. Workers are still reporting that it is a confusing, unwieldy system, and that they are spending too much time with it that would be better spent with children and families.”

She is also concerned that because too much time is being spent on the system, “social workers are not talking to each other as much. They are not sharing their thoughts”.

Last week, Children’s Secretary Ed Balls pledged to overhaul the ICS. This was in response to the Social Work Taskforce review, which said social workers were overstretched and tied up in red tape. The ICS was introduced following Lord Laming’s original report into the death of Victoria Climbie, which called for better record-keeping and information sharing.

A DCSF spokeswoman said: “This study shows that there are a range of factors contributing to time pressures for social workers including more time spent on care planning and reviewing and other required activities.”

She added:  “We will work closely with the Task Force and consider carefully the recommendations in due course.”