Building a bigger picture in Swindon to keep vulnerable children safe
Karen Reeve, head of children, families and community health at Swindon Borough Council, discusses the pioneering work the authority has been doing to ensure key information on vulnerable children can be shared more simply between health and social care teams
If a child who is subject to a child protection plan arrives at a hospital emergency department with a head injury, their social worker will want to know so they can act quickly and take the appropriate action needed to keep them safe.
However, information such as this may take time to come through to the relevant practitioner responsible for the case, which could cause unnecessary delays.
A project being introduced in Swindon aims to prevent this.
The authority is among the first to roll out a new IT solution as part of the Child Protection - Information Sharing (CP-IS) project, a national initiative designed to improve information sharing between health and social services in all local authorities for the purposes of safeguarding children.
So, what changes are underway in Swindon to improve how and what information is shared between teams? And what difference will the CP-IS project make to child protection?
Bringing information together
According to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, ineffective information sharing can be a contributing factor in around 60% of serious case reviews. If information on children is held in a number of disparate systems, practitioners can spend time searching for the data they need when they could be visiting families. Technology can help to link the pieces of data up and create a much more complete picture of a child's circumstances which, in turn, will be incredibly valuable to the teams responsible for keeping them safe.
This is an aim of the CP-IS initiative. In Swindon, systems and processes have been put in place to help ensure that health and social care teams have the information they need to work in a joined-up way to protect the most vulnerable children and young people they are in contact with. A piece of software provided by Capita One is the vital link between the authority's social care system and the national CP-IS database to bring this to life.
Protecting the most vulnerable
Although still in its initial stages, the way Swindon's CP-IS project will work is that when a child presents at an unscheduled health care setting, a member of staff with the appropriate authorisation willsee a flag against their details on screen, indicating that they are either looked-after or subject to a child protection plan. This is important information that could have an impact on their treatment.
Medical staff could see information on an unborn child subject to a child protection plan too, if their pregnant mother presents at an unscheduled health care setting. They would also be able to quickly find contact details for the relevant social worker, if necessary, so they could give them a call.
An automatic notification is sent to the social care practitioner when a health professional accesses CP-IS and this will be documented in the relevant electronic record. So equally, if a young person in care turns up unexpectedly at a walk-in medical centre somewhere in another county, staff there could alert the relevant practitioner and enable the authority to respond quickly to get them the help and support they need.
With the growing importance of early intervention in children's social care, it can be essential for health workers to have access to key information on the children they come into contact with.
Getting the right information at the right time
Crucial to the effectiveness of the programme is that social care staff with the relevant permissions will be able to quickly see whether the files of children they are responsible for have been accessed by a healthcare practitioner via the CP-IS system. And if so, they will be able to ascertain details of which medical setting the file was accessed from and by whom.
Using the information available to them, social care staff could highlight a situation where a child who is subject to a child protection plan is presenting at multiple healthcare settings on a regular basis, wherever in England this is occurring. Knowing this could be critical to ensuring they are protected from harm.
A new era in child protection
Swindon Borough Council is already starting to see the benefits of the CP-IS programme. With the technological links in place and a raft of unscheduled care settings such as walk-in centres, GP out-of-hours services and emergency departments linking into the system, it is becoming possible for health and social care teams to share more timely information more easilythan they could before. This helps teams working with vulnerable children in the area make informed decisions for them and supports more effective multi-agency working.
The impact of the CP-IS project could be far-reaching. NHS England and the Health and Social Care Information Centre are leading the implementation and roll-out of the £8.6 million programme over a five year period.
At the end of this time, the aim is for all 152 local authority social service organisations, and approximately 1,200 unscheduled care settings to have access to the CP-IS service.
As we progress with our information sharing project here in Swindon, I am confident that we have taken the first important steps towards offering greater protection to some of the most vulnerable children in our area.
Karen Reeve is head of children, families and community health at Swindon Borough Council