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A decade of data

Monday 17 September 2018



Topic: Foster care, Data
Author: John Muir

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How an analysis of data has enabled Stirling’s services for children develop to better fit their needs

Data analysis may seem like a dry, theoretical business, but it has ultimately enabled our Children and Families’ service to gain the knowledge and resources we need to do a better job for vulnerable children and young people in the Stirling area.

Trying to make better use of data to drive improvement and innovation, get better outcomes and to deliver the service more efficiently has been a key aspect of many pieces of work ranging from day-to-day operational improvements, up to informing service redesign and strategic development.

In 2015 we completed a detailed analysis of 10 years’ worth of looked-after children data to understand what the longer-term trends have been in the placements used by our young people and how those trends have evolved.  

Forecasting the future

This allowed us to develop predictive analysis and forecasting that show what might be expected to happen if we continue to deliver services ‘as is’: what the world will look like for children and young people in Stirling four years from 2016 if we continue to deliver services as we are doing.

This analysis helped to inform a wide range of service improvements and provided good evidence for the business cases that justified the approaches being taken. Although there have been a number of specific improvements that have been implemented there are two we think are worth a closer look.

Out-of-authority residential placements

The first of these has been a review of the out-of-authority residential placements for looked after and accommodated children. This review was led by the Chief Social Work Officer, Marie Valente*, and considered all placements of this nature to see what the best outcomes could be.

This analysis gave us clear evidence that if we continued the way we had, more of these children were going to end up placed outside of the areas which they are from. This confirmed what social workers already believed to be the case, but having the facts and figures laid out like this enabled Marie to secure the additional resources that were needed to improve the outcomes we wanted to achieve for our young people.

As a result of this, a number of young people – 11 out of the 39 who were out-of-area – have been supported to return to their own community or into a local family setting.

The case of one young person, whose life has been transformed as a result of this data work, is perhaps the best way to demonstrate its power in human terms.

One of those 39 children first came into an out-of-authority residential placement at the age of four, and when we started this work he had been there for almost eight years.  

We knew he couldn’t be placed with one of our existing foster carers because his needs were so complex. Luckily we were able to recruit an enhanced foster carer.  

This foster carer is a former social worker who undertook this fostering role full time, with their enhanced skillset, to help this child.  That was ten months ago, and I’m so happy to report that he is thriving.

Work continues to be done to ensure that all of the children identified by this research as being in out-of-area placements are achieving better outcomes.  

We also used the research findings to refine and improve the governance around decision-making which is helping to ensure that young people are in the most appropriate placement.

A place-based approach to service delivery

A second example linked to our data analysis work is the emergence of a ‘place-based’ approach to service delivery. We are using the data to better understand where and what the need is within individual communities: across the wider Stirling Council area we have a range of communities, from urban to rural and from apparently affluent to those with greater challenges.

We are considering how a range of data including geographic mapping, categories of work, and age profiles of caseloads in particular areas might inform us and enable us to change what services we deliver, on a multi-agency basis within those communities, and ensure our teams have the right blend of skills.

For instance, this could mean we target resources to support parents where young children are vulnerable, or where teenagers could be supported to avoid harmful behaviours.  Using the data like this enables us to take a long, considered look at our work, often confirming what we already believe but sometimes highlighting trends or patterns that are not easily seen when cases are considered on an individual basis. We now have a firmer, factual basis on which to secure and target the resources needed.

John Muir – Children, Communities and Enterprise, Stirling Council

*Listen below to Marie Valente, Chief Social Work Officer, explaining how data is being used in Stirling.

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