‘Data takes the strain’ for good outcomes in West Sussex

Delivering an effective service to customers with complex needs is necessarily a data-driven enterprise.  From a preventative perspective we need to know who our at-risk families are, where they live, and the types of issue they face.  We need to be able to identify the most prevalent problems before we can adequately plan our professional response.  We need to gain a sense of relative severity, so that preference can be given to the most vulnerable.  This involves blending many streams of information, from free school meal entitlement to reports of possible domestic abuse.  Our aspiration to ‘Know Every Child’ in West Sussex is only feasible where strong data gives rise to useful business intelligence.

You cannot do a proper job without the right tools.  One of the best investment decisions we ever made was to purchase a whole family case management system, and then spend time fine-tuning it to our local requirements.  This system crosses traditional boundaries: it is deployed to some 1400 practitioners working on early help plans across our multi-agency ‘Think Family’ partnership.

Our system provides a single unified view of the family, its baseline problems and its journey to sustainability.  It also acts as a predictive and audit-ready tool, both for identification of need and the assessment of outcomes.  An in-built scoring system allows the intensity of a family’s problems to be assessed. This is linked to our Outcomes Framework and can identify when a family can be ‘stepped down’ to a voluntary service or when a case can be closed.  When families have stabilised and achieved the better outcomes we all wish for them, this success is validated through the family’s new ‘score’, and becomes claimable through the ‘payment by results’ mechanism.   Our auditors work directly in the system and all the evidence is readily to hand.  This has immeasurably supported us in achieving 49% of our authority’s overall success quota so far with families, within the national programme.

Our data system also provides us with essential internal management information.  We can rapidly identify and respond to issues arising – for instance to recognise and learn from outstanding performance, or take action if things are going off course; it also supports quality assurance, case studies and ‘deep dives’ to allow us to gain an enriched view of data, within an intelligence-led environment.  Naturally we have a skilled team of insight and analysis staff to support this undertaking.

One of the most fulfilling uses of data-led intelligence is to plan and commission services tailored to known specific need.  A current example of evidence-based commissioning is the Pause project, to work with specified numbers of young women who experience repeat pregnancies and are unable to look after their babies.  Also at the moment we are developing a business case to pursue a bid to the Life Chances Fund, aimed at improving children’s Good Level of Development (GLD) and readiness for school.  Alongside this, we are working to improve identification of needs and access to services for vulnerable parents, using an intelligence-based approach to intervene earlier in a targeted way. We are set to become a Beacon Authority to undertake innovative preventative work with families at risk of domestic abuse.  This project has been promoted through analysis of predictive data backed up by testimony from survivors of abuse. What this told us was that it was both highly desirable and possible to take pre-emptive action to remove the causes of violence in the home.  As with all the preventative initiatives outlined here, through gathering indicative information from a wide range of disciplines, we can start to ask the right questions and then target our resources to make the maximum difference.

We always aspire to do more.  For instance, working towards more comprehensive health information, and a greater understanding of tenants with serious rent arrears would increase our ability both to avert social misery, and to deploy public resources even more efficiently and effectively – and so make life better for our residents. That after all, is what we are here for.

If you would like to find out more about the system we chose, please get in touch; or if you have any pointers about the areas where we still want to develop, please leave a comment below.

Hayley Connor - West Sussex Troubled Families Co-ordinator

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