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Data visualisation in children’s social care

By Nuffield Foundation

A new approach to data visualisation in children’s social care has been developed by Coram and The Alan Turing Institute, with funding from the Nuffield Foundation.

The work is being showcased today to a prestigious audience of children’s service managers, social care data experts, academics and others concerned with data analysis and performance in children’s services including Sir James Munby (Chair of the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory). The project was also supported by the Rees Centre at the University of Oxford.

Renuka Jeyarajah Dent, Coram’s Deputy CEO and the project lead explains that:

“We thought the time was ripe to create a new kind of dialogue between data scientists, children’s services managers and academic experts to see how we can use 21st century advances in data visualisation to understand how we respond to children and to provide better care and support for those in need of help”

There is a lot of data collected in children’s services but we are often unable to make it work as hard as it might and may be missing potential insights. Senior managers still comment that more needs to be done to get additional value from the data that agencies already have.

Reports can be poor at describing how children pass through services, processes, and systems, over time. It is often hard for managers to get a handle on the ‘flow’ along different pathways and if the same children repeatedly present. Tables, charts and spreadsheets are not always the best means of demonstrating to colleagues what is happening and initiating conversations about how to achieve the best possible pathways for children and families.

The Alan Turing Institute and Kent County Council have worked closely together to produce an early prototype visualisation, which shows children moving through available pathways when they first enter the ‘front door’ of children’s social care.

Sarah Hammond, Director, Integrated Children’s Services, Kent, explained her perspective:

“The challenge for senior managers in children’s social care, especially in local authorities as big as Kent, is that it can be very difficult to swiftly respond to what data is telling us about children’s experience. We collect a wealth of data and we use it as well as we can. We believe that making this data more accessible to those of us making decisions on behalf of children will allow us to more effectively visualise children’s journeys through our services. In turn this will help us sift through what really matters and when for the children we seek to serve.”

Dr James Geddes from The Alan Turing Institute said:

“It has been a privilege to collaborate with some of those who work in children’s social services. In common with many undertakings in government and industry, social services generates a great deal of information and yet, at the same time, finds it hard to make the best use of that information. Data visualisation can help: it can support the analyst in seeing patterns and commonalities and thus in developing an understanding of how the world works; it also helps the practitioner see anomalies and outliers and thus understand where a decision might be needed. None of this is easy and my sense is that we are only at the start of the journey. Still, I hope that some of the work of this project can point in promising directions.”

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We improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in EducationWelfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

We offer our grant-holders the freedom to frame questions and enable new thinking. Our research must stand up to rigorous academic scrutiny, but we understand that to be successful in effecting change, it also needs to be relevant to people’s experience.