Top tips guide: transforming a compliance culture to a learning culture

In her final report, Professor Munro called for a radical reduction in the amount of central prescription, helping social care professionals move from a compliance culture to a learning culture. In the report entitled; a child-centred system, Munro recommends that statutory guidance be revised and the inspection process modified to give a clearer focus on each individual child’s needs. Her final report made 15 recommendations and signalled a shift from previous reforms, which had resulted in a loss of focus on the needs of the child.

In order for this to be successful, local authorities need to review how they can improve children’s social care procedures, thus offering frontline workers more freedom to assess need and provide the right help.

Isobel Freeman, senior consultant for OLM Group, shares her top tip guide for ensuring that applications and processes are aligned to enable the efforts of frontline workers to be refocused.

Turn information into chronology

Munro considers chronology a key component of the case record and ICT can assist in the production of recorded items in date order. Turning the information into a chronology, as Munro acknowledges, requires professional input. This presents an opportunity for IT suppliers to develop innovative solutions, while simultaneously lowering the administrative requirements for the user.

The system administration must allow users to define the significance of each item, and as a result build their own chronology; saving and reloading the results each time. It is also worth including chronology notes associated with each entry alongside the record, should this be required for cases with multiple workers.

Easily extractable

In order to ensure every child’s case can be extracted easily, the system should be set up so that each social worker only has access to the screens and functionalities that are relevant to them specifically. By ensuring that recording terms are consistent and appropriately named, the chronological list of recorded information will be easily understood.

Access to personal details

It is important that a report can be accessed through a child’s personal details, to enable users to run a report on the system at any given time. Service commissioners can set runtime parameters that will enable users to view either all records on the system, or just current ones. These reports should also be made downloadable, so that they can be easily printed as a pdf, MS word file or xml document should this be required.

Form deconstruction

It would seem that current exemplars have been designed to function as paper forms; and as a result of this, they do not immediately lend themselves to the advantages that ICT can offer, in terms of support and effective recording. Social workers efforts are therefore being forced into using tick box systems to meet strict specifications, rather than innovative solutions that could make the social worker’s life much easier.

Munro calls for a significant slimming down of recording procedures, and consequently IT suppliers are now in a position to explore new ways to deliver enhancements to the systems that support them.

Forms should be deconstructed to simplify the recording process, (we have helped council’s reduce their forms by over 70%) and consideration should be given to who is recording what, and how. For example, mobile technology can allow social workers who are out visiting children, to focus on front-end recording and approve completed forms using pre-population, so long as back office admin is being used appropriately to support this.

Improving ease of use

In order to be used to their full advantage, systems must be easy to use and efficient. Local authorities can enable their system to duplicate assessments and activities to multiple users, as a time-saving tool, as well as setting up a screen, which allows multiple record closures when involvement in a number of cases is ceased.

Local authorities must change the default time period on recording observations to weeks, as the current setting distorts practice and prevents the social worker from staying child-centred, as too much time is taken logging this information more regularly than is necessary.

Enhanced decision making

In her report, Munro calls for systems to be designed with the views of users and professionals in mind. To this end she suggests the creation of a Principal Child and Family Social Worker in each local authority with the responsibility to communicate frontline concerns to all levels of management. An intrinsic part of developing a learning and adaptive system is the creation of channels through which frontline practitioners can notify those in authority of how the current operational arrangements and other features of the practice system are affecting their work with children and families.

Authorities should set up and introduce simple action plans, which allow actions, progress and outcomes to be recorded and monitored by senior staff – there needs to be a stronger commitment by all levels of local administration to understand how senior management decisions impact on frontline social work. Management decisions need to be recorded and the process must allow management staff to input information, without developing bottlenecks in the system.

Multi-agency approach

Munro’s report states that evidence shows the absence of consensus about how well professionals are understanding one another’s roles and working together across agencies. This emphasises the importance and need for a thoughtfully designed local agreement between professionals about how best to communicate with each other about their work with each family.

These conversations and agreement should be supported with a locally agreed process, for recording the needs of each family and the action required, with details of the help that will be provided in each particular case.

Integration capabilities are therefore another aspect worth exploring; enabling early intervention and information sharing between different agencies. This will create effective partnerships, and could provide a really simple way of identifying who is currently working with a child, their role, and how they can be contacted.

A family narrative

Another of Munro’s findings includes the need for recording systems to maintain a systemic and family narrative. Whilst having an individual record for each child is acknowledged, there is also an expectation that ICT systems should allow the thread of the family narrative to be identified.

Authorities can consider developing outputs for review by management staff, which will present the case information from a family level; this can be built into the process and practice, and the form set-up must be reviewed to facilitate this. Systems should also be set up so that the outcome of a case is incorporated, and can be easily identified and monitored.

The Government is yet to deliver its response to Munro, but these are steps that can be made instantly, to improve case management ahead of their response, and thus improve organisation and outcomes through re-engineering business processes.

At OLM Systems we work very closely with our customers, local authorities and primary care trusts, and hold Professor Munro’s findings in high regard. We welcome the suggestions made in her final report and believe her calls for change are necessary and achievable. We will continue to act on these findings to ensure that we remain at the forefront of technology solutions.

Isobel Freeman is a senior consultant for OLM Group, the UK’s largest independent supplier of software solutions for children’s and adult services