Gareth Richards explains how the ability to share information more simply is delivering dramatic time savings for youth services teams in Southend and helping staff to make more informed decisions.
Imagine a scenario where a young person – let’s call him Joe – comes to the attention of the authority’s youth services team because his school is concerned about what might be behind a recent period of unexplained absence.
Would the worker assigned to the case have the information they need to hand to make the right decisions for him? Or would hours of time need to be spent searching through electronic or paper files and making calls in order to understand what is going on in his life?
It might be that Joe has recently been referred to an education psychologist, for example, or that he has come to the attention of the youth offending team. Would the worker concerned be able to see from his record that his mother has been visited by a social worker because she is struggling with her additional responsibilities as a carer, or that the family is being helped under the authority’s Troubled Families initiative?
There are many sources of information that might be important to ensuring that the right decisions are made to get a young person like Joe back into school more regularly or provide appropriate services that meet the family’s needs. If Joe lived in Southend, the different teams involved in his case would have authorised access to a wealth of information, providing the bigger picture they need, to understand what support is required and where.
Meeting the challenges of the multi-agency approach
As is increasingly the case in most authorities, there are often many different agencies working under the Integrated Youth Support Services umbrella in Southend. A young person and their family could be receiving help and support from any number of them.
One of the authority’s key aims was to improve the way data is shared between teams working with young people and families. As part of this, we introduced a piece of software from Capita One, which allows the storage of information from multi-agency teams in one place. It means that a range of detail on a young person’s life can now be viewed from a single screen, without having to spend time seeking it out – this could be information from schools, notes from teams such as educational psychology, Connexions, youth justice or the Troubled Families team.
One of the major benefits we have found to holding data centrally is that the different pieces of information can be joined up much more easily to create a more holistic picture of the issues affecting a young person’s life.
Now, a social worker, educational psychologist, a member of the youth offending or Troubled Families teams in Southend can quickly see information on a young person’s background and circumstances that could be important to the decisions being made for them. This might include their school attendance records, details of any exclusions or post-16 support that has been put in place, as well as information on welfare issues or social services involvement.
Information such as details of special educational needs or notes on incidences of violence from schools can be vital to a member of staff on the youth offending team (YOT). In Southend, our YOT workers can access this kind of data alongside a list of a young person’s convictions and court appearances, as well as information from the drug and alcohol prevention service or Troubled Families team. Joining up information in this way means teams across the authority can make more informed decisions about what help an individual or their family might need.
Making a difference
One of the major advantages we have seen in Southend as a result of our initiative to improve data sharing between teams is that there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of phone calls our staff have to make to get the information they need to do their jobs effectively. This has, in turn, freed up time and resources which can be better allocated to delivering action plans that will support young people in all areas of their lives.
At a time when multi-agency working is increasingly becoming the foundation stone for delivering effective services and support for children, young people and their families, the work we are doing here in Southend to get more information in to the hands of those who need it, is making it much easier for our teams to make a difference.
Gareth Richards is the senior performance analyst at Southend-on-Sea Borough Council