Improving the life chances of Essex’s young people

Essex County Council is bringing information together to create a single record of a child from birth to adulthood. Emma Toublic, head of education information and business systems, talks about the positive impact the initiative is having on the support it provides to children and families

When a child or young person disengages from education, the opportunities for a positive, fulfilling and happy future start to fade. The important role we play as local authorities is to identify and address the issues that might have resulted in this happening, to get the child back into the classroom and on the road to success. But to get to this point, the teams involved need to understand the circumstances the child or family are experiencing.

The reasons why a child might turn their back on school can be many and varied. They may be struggling to cope with incidences of bullying at school, or falling behind in a particular subject. It might be that they are encountering difficulties at home or there are problems with their daily transport arrangements. Their family might just need some additional support to provide the stability the child needs to re-engage in their studies.

In Essex County Council, we have launched an initiative designed to help ensure our education support teams are equipped with the knowledge they need to see a more complete picture of a child’s life, so that they can provide the most appropriate help, as early as possible. As part of this, we have embarked on a journey towards creating a single record of a child – from birth through to adulthood.

Identifying the gaps
The first step was to review the way children’s services staff in Essex shared information about the children and young people they support. This part of the project revealed that data was being recorded and stored in a variety of different places. For example, this meant that if a child with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) started missing school after moving to another part of the county there could be a delay in this information getting to their caseworker. Other information that might be relevant could be difficult to access straight away too, such as details of historical poor attendance or exclusion from school.

We wanted to join up data on children and families to help eliminate any time lapse in helping a child such as this back into their lessons. For us, making this a reality involved gathering information from 700 disparate databases, spreadsheets and paper files where children’s services teams had been storing information and hold it centrally.

A single record
With the focus on bringing the different jigsaw pieces of a child’s life together, we are building a clear picture of the lives of children and young people, so the right action can be taken to help them, at the right time. There is an individual record for every child that can be accessed by authorised practitioners when they need information about a child they are supporting, and teams can add updates as work with the family progresses.

Our vision of a single view of a child follows an individual right from the early years, through education and youth services and beyond. The data is now stored securely and centrally in our management information system, Capita’s One solution, and we can set appropriate permissions to ensure that practitioners can access the information they need.

Information sharing
With a single record in place, data can be shared efficiently and securely between teams so that decisions can be made quickly based on the latest information. Before, we would need to arrange meetings for up to 10 different people to come in and discuss support and provision for a vulnerable child or young person. Each professional would arrive armed with paper-based records or spreadsheets, and it would take time to pull together all the strands of the child’s situation in order to decide on the best course of action.

Now, with the new system in place, our teams are able to keep track of the families and children they support in just a few taps of their screen, as the information they are authorised to see is instantly available. Having a central source of information gives caseworkers key information when they are visiting families, such as notes on accessing a property or a record of a dog at the address. This means that our staff can be fully prepared before they arrive at the house.

There are benefits for parents and carers too. Caseworkers can keep track of a family’s changing circumstances and parents only need to tell the council once if they move house or their child changes school. The new information will be made available to all the teams that need it from the moment it is keyed into the system.

Looking ahead
When multi-agency teams have the information they need to work efficiently and effectively together, local authorities can provide the support children and families need at any point in time. But in Essex, this information is also enabling us to plan the help they might require in the future too. So, if a child with a hearing impairment registers at a children’s centre, we can put them in touch with the services they currently need, but also set the ball rolling to get the support in place for them by the time they start school. This helps to ensure there are no delays in delivering the help and equipment the child needs to flourish at school and enables us to plan budgets more accurately for their requirements in the months and years ahead.

As the child grows up, their needs will change, and with forward planning, we are better placed to meet these needs – be it their transport to and from school, additional support in making the transition to secondary school, or help accessing college courses and work opportunities.

Freeing up staff
An additional advantage is that our management information system is now hosted in the cloud, so our staff no longer need to worry about carrying out routine maintenance or software upgrades. These are all taken care of.

This frees staff to focus their time on tasks that make a difference to the children and families we support – and spend as little time as possible engaged in administration. One of our key annual undertakings is processing school admissions, for example, which this year took just 15 minutes. We are only part of the way through our journey, but we are already seeing the positive impact of having a central hub of information on children and young people in Essex.

By giving our teams the tools to slot the jigsaw pieces of a child’s life in place, no matter how fluid, they will have a clearer picture of their circumstances – today and for years to come. This will help ensure that our staff are best placed to identify the issues holding children and families back and tailor the support needed to make a real difference. This is the vision we are making a reality to improve the life chances of the people of Essex.

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