A continuous cycle of rising demand and budget cuts has left the social care sector unable to cope with the growing pressures of protecting children who are at risk. According to the Early Intervention Foundation (EIP), taking too long to provide families with the support they need costs local authorities approximately £6.4 billion per year, and £17 billion for the public sector as a whole.
The logical answer to this problem, then, is to intervene at an earlier stage - before the issues affecting a child and their family grow in scale, cost more to solve and create repercussions for the local authority. In Hounslow, for example, the council found that a family who is given the help it needs early on costs around £1,478, but late intervention sees a staggering 43x increase - costing the authority an estimated £64,000 more. Ultimately, the worst case scenario can be that lives are lost unnecessarily, as has been seen several times in recent years.
It is widely recognised that one way to achieve early intervention is to facilitate the sharing of data between different departments and stakeholders that work with a child or their family. Less widely acknowledged, however, is that a lack of data accuracy can stand in the way of this. One example is the data mismatch problem.
The data mismatch problem - one child, two names, multiple addresses
The existence of disparate systems in the public sector makes it common for there to be duplicate records on a single citizen, where a single child may be listed under two separate names and against several different addresses. For many citizens, it’s not especially problematic to have mismatched records, but a vulnerable child may be exposed to a variety of complex issues, such as inter-parental conflict. Therefore their last name may be completely different across two systems, or their address may change frequently. Furthermore, the implication is that if one child is deemed at risk then the likelihood is that any siblings may also be.
As every social worker already knows, the lives of vulnerable children change rapidly, and it can be difficult to know when to intervene – both too early and too late can have a damaging effect. The process is gradual and complex, and often there are trails of incidents that lead to the point where intervention is necessary.
The inefficiencies of children’s records could mean that practitioners are not alerted to these trails of incidents or that a child who was arrested for shoplifting is the same child that was also flagged up for behavioural problems at school not so long ago. As a result, the child isn’t given the help and attention he/she needs before the problems are more difficult to reverse, and much more costly.
The mismatch in data between systems creates a knock-on effect, where authorities are not seeing an accurate and reliable picture of children’s lives and are therefore unable to make the important decisions on how to help, leaving them in vulnerable positions.
The solution - stepping out of the silo
For data to be valuable and useful to social workers, it needs to be three things:
- Readily available - practitioners need access to the right data at the right time to make informed decisions when it comes to intervention.
- Accurate - for data to be of value, it has to be accurate. This means there must be no duplicate, incorrect or mismatched records.
- Usable - practitioners are already limited for time, so it’s detrimental if they waste it on administration or interpretation where they should be making important decisions.
It also needs to be cost effective and not overly complex or timely to implement as MASH groups and local authorities are already under pressure to do more with less.
Master Data Management (MDM) is a technology solution that is becoming widely recognised in providing data that meets these criteria. MDM takes data from multiple departments and organisations to establish a single view of the child or household, but unlike other central databases and integration solutions, it uses sophisticated algorithms to take into account any duplications and mismatched data points, resulting in precise, clean and transparent information about each vulnerable child.
What’s more, it allows practitioners to access this single view data directly from the CRM and case management systems which they use now on a daily basis – meaning authorities don’t have to invest time and money into changing their system or training staff on how to use another technology.
The result is streamlined, reliable and up-to-date information about children that allows the right people to make the right decisions at the right time.
Want to understand more about how MDM can improve data availability, accuracy and usability for social workers, and accelerate early intervention to protect vulnerable children? Download our guide below.