Changing Times and the New Normal
Social Work is a fast paced and ever-changing environment; at no time have changes been more evident or more immediate than when lock down was announced and children, young people and their families were socially distancing and/or socially isolating.
Suddenly social workers and local authorities were faced with the immediate concern of how to keep their workers safe, but also how to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the children and young people they support.
Social workers are champions when it comes to managing change. Whether it’s a change to policy, legislation and guidance at the national level, changes to their local systems and internal processes, or a change of dynamic within families impacting upon a plan for a child or young person.
Here we explore some of the challenges that workers and local authorities have faced, and how IT and children’s services case management systems provide the tools they need to maintain creative and effective practice both during lockdown but also beyond in the ‘new normal’.
Creative and ‘Virtual’ Practices
Social workers sometimes unfairly get a bad reputation for not being the most technologically savvy group of practitioners. However, local authorities have for a long time been exploring how to better utilise technology and how to harness its power to work creatively with the children, young people and families they support.
Local authorities also have to be responsible with their spending, and when purchasing new equipment and exploring new ideas, these have to be based on sound evidence and the outcomes should, where possible, be measurable.
During lock down it’s been heartening to see local authorities being able to move forward on decisions to implement new technology when it is needed most, and staff embracing creative approaches, such as video calls and conferencing, portals and working from home. The details of these can be fully integrated and/or captured within their case management solution, so that when restrictions are eased further, it is evident from the child or young person’s record how they were supported and what methods were used.
That is not to move away from the importance of direct contact with children, young people and families but to recognise where other tools could be utilised to effectively open up two-way communication with other professionals and families, and to remove some of the administrative burden that workers face. This will ensure that where direct contact and visits are beneficial, social workers have the time and ability to do these effectively and safely.
Equally, some children and young people have never been more vulnerable without access to school, and other community resources who previously may have been maintaining contact with them on a day-to-day or weekly basis. Utilising some of the modern resources available can provide social workers with a valuable insight into children and young people’s lives and current realities where visiting may not be possible.
The Role of Portals
There are a number of local authorities who are currently live or implementing the Liquidlogic Children’s Portal in a variety of different ways to cover a wide range of scenarios.
From a person making initial contact with a local authority about a family for support,
to children, young people and their families interacting with their own information, sharing plans or communicating with a worker. Alternatively, foster carers and adopters can make an enquiry, provide evidence, approve their assessments or review documentation.
Portals provide a unique opportunity for information to be quickly and easily accessed directly from a local authority’s own website, and for users to share and receive information in a secure setting. This can be made available directly alongside other resources, such as online support groups, or training videos with parenting support and advice, ensuring that families are signposted to the correct contact information in a simple and user-friendly way. The information is received directly into the Liquidlogic case management solution meaning that there is no need to duplicate, saving time and ensuring accuracy of information.
Consistent findings in serious case reviews provides a clear message that multi-agency working is a vital element to successfully keeping children and young people safe. This is particularly challenging where different professionals have not had the same involvement and contact with children and young people, but equally have not been able to come together to analyse and contribute to effective planning.
During the pandemic, virtual tools such as video conferencing have been used and embraced by everyone – including social work professionals throughout different agencies. One important feature of social work practice is to empower children, young people and families, and where interactions are virtual, it is vitally important to ensure the power dynamic is appropriate and that they can fully engage and remain the focus of the work that all professionals are undertaking.
For ongoing work, the Liquidlogic delegation portal provides professionals with a seamless and secure way to contribute to assessments, plans and reviews for the children, young people and families who they support. This ensures that other professionals only access the information appropriate to their role but can continue to provide their much-needed input and analysis to inform interventions.
A Time for Change and the ‘New Normal’
Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have witnessed some truly inspiring work from many customers. The speed and rate of change has been interesting to see, sometimes with local authorities bringing forward existing plans, which have been well thought out rather than make a change for the sake of it.
Feedback from customers has been that many of the changes (not all) have been really positive, and that they would like to continue to utilise when restrictions are eased further. This includes some of the creative practices which have been born out of a time of need, but would benefit children, young people and families in the longer term.
Now may feel like the most difficult time to review policies and processes and to implement change but customers have shown what is possible and the benefits that can be achieved in doing so.
Equally, there have been some excellent examples of local authorities reviewing how systems support their staff and service users; identifying what is working well, which parts of the process flow effectively and where are the pinch points. We are keen to continue to support local authorities in these areas, and provide the most effective, modern and innovative tools for front line practitioners so that they can continue to provide the direct support needed to the children, young people and families who they work with.
Blog written by Angela, Children's Senior Product Analyst.