9 March 2010

Safeguarding2.0 - making children safer

I'd like to tell you about one of the best meetings that I have ever been to; and it was for a good cause too.

Safeguarding2.0 is an initiative, seeded by FutureGov, that is looking to see how/if web2.0 technologies can be used to help make children safer. Playing chess on Facebook is great fun but can we do something really useful with the same technologies?!

I got involved in the initial scoping workshop, thanks to a Twitter friend (a twend?!), back in August and last week we returned to the LGiU to get an update on the project and to suggest some future directions.

Around the table we had an impressive mix of people involved in different aspects of safeguarding and/or web2.0 and it was this mix that made the meeting so good. I judge the success of a meeting by how much I say (am I engaged and contributing?) and how many notes I take (am I learning?) and this scored heavily on both points. One of the purposes of writing this article is to try and crystallize some of those learnings.

Scoping the problem

As a consultant, my natural instinct is to draw diagrams and preferably a 2x2 matrix but so far I've not managed to get below 3x3 when describing the key factors.

1) The child's needs are clearly central to the debate and here I suggested that we should invert the familiar needs triangle that shows the neediest children at the top where the triangle is thinnest. If we invert it then the thick end mirrors the physical case file and shows that the needs (and risks) are greater and more agencies are involved with more interventions.

2) The age of the child is important as that drives things like the balance of input from the child and the family and the agencies involved, e.g. schools.

3) There are a range of stakeholders involved that goes something like Child > Family > Peers > Professionals > Community (not convinced that's a linear progression though) and each of these plays different roles and so could be helped in different ways. For example, professionals could benefit from better ways of sharing information and the community could benefit from being able to raise concerns.

Insights

A number of light bulbs flashed for me during the meeting, this is just some of them.

Story telling is what matters. and face to face communication is needed in order to tell the full story about the more complex cases, notes in a case file won't do it.

Most, if not all, of our processes and technologies are based on our bureaucratic view of the world which often does not match the client's. For example, we insist on formal meetings at set times whereas they prefer to communicate by text message when the mood is right for them.

Spreadsheets and reports from IT systems present a flat view of the world (unlike the bulging case file). There is a need to use some clever data visualization to better encapsulate a case.

If we can do FixMyStreet, why can't we do FixMyCommunity?

We need to find a way to include positive messages in any improved communications. If we just report concerns and bad observations then we'll get swamped in negativity. If a child at risk comes to school beaming and saying what a great weekend they had then we need to capture this too.

Networks are more efficient that hierarchies in dealing with complex situations but you need some sort of hierarchy to get accountability.

Social Workers have made the choice of working with people, not computers, and we should understand and respect this.

Some possible solutions

A few specific ideas came to mind in the discussion but these are just scratching at the surface of what could be done. Some of these are quick and easy whereas others are much more difficult and would probably require Government support.

An iPhone app for social workers could keep track of their contacts for each case and their appointments etc. while out of the office.

A Twitter-live application (there had to be one!) to enable low-level conversations between professionals so that they can share the sort of gossip they would have if they shared a workplace, possibly with some sort of read-only-once technology to address data protection concerns.

A self-help website for older children along the lines of PatientsLikeMe (this TEDtalk shows how it works).

A FixMyCommunity website that allows the general public to notify authorities of concerns they have for vulnerable people, young or old. Obviously there are lots of ways that this could be abused so it's not an easy option but the benefits could be great.

Virtual meetings (chat, video, text, etc.) to enable children to engage with professionals in a way and at a time that suits them.

Story analysis (this may be what SenseMaker does) to determine patterns from stories and so improve risk analysis.

End note

I think that this project has a good chance of delivering real and important benefits and I am very pleased and a little proud to be associated with it.

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