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Digital innovation in children’s social care

During the first few months of the pandemic all of us managed to adapt and innovate in ways that would usually have taken years, all the while during a national lockdown. A number of digital platforms suddenly became the venue of choice for meetings (not to mention the weird and wonderful backgrounds on offer!) We also had to adapt quickly to support our children and families during this time. After a year of working in this way, we can now create the opportunity to consider what we have learnt and what we would want to maintain post-Covid.

Digital innovation in children’s social care has been an ongoing topic of debate for a number of years. The idea of using technology to improve efficiency or reach families sooner sounds appealing, but this should not come at the expense of social worker judgement. More recently the What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care explored the effectiveness of machine learning through predictive analytics, yet the research showed that this was limited at best. Children’s social care is complex and personalised. Building relationships is central to the work of social workers and other professionals who support children and families at times of need. This is not to say that such approaches have no place in the sector, indeed some local authorities are exploring the use of machine learning models as an additional tool to support professional decision making. Similarly, many of us will have been considering which aspects of technology we want to take forward, especially in training, to help support more children and families at an earlier stage.

One thing often been fed back to me over the past year is the importance of seeing people face-to-face, whether that be colleagues or children and young people. Many of our frontline workers have continued to visit those families at the greatest risk during the pandemic, with protective measures in place, but video interaction has replaced a lot of activity. During a video call you can’t always see what’s going on ‘behind the camera’ and you may not notice things that workers would be quick to pick up on had they visited the child’s home. Also, we know many families have struggled with access to technology. Yet despite these obstacles, the use of digital platforms has allowed to us work with more children and families who were otherwise hard to engage with, and this has been true of some professionals too. Clearly, face-to-face interaction will not disappear from children’s services but there are elements of these new ways of working that open up new avenues to improving practice.

The key, as it is with so many things, is finding the right balance including what is beneficial for children as well as practitioners. Being able to physically meet people in their home is an important part of social work and I can’t see this ever being replaced, however who’s to say we can’t use technology to improve practices that we have held dear for so long?

Jenny Coles, ADCS President, 2020/21.

This article was first published as part of a special report in CYP Now in March 2021 -

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