Data matters: the role of Minimum Datasets in improving child protection processes
Jo Cochrane is the Children’s Services Development and Assurance Team Manager at Dumfries and Galloway Council, since retired. Since 2018, CELCIS has been working alongside local public sector partnerships in Dumfries and Galloway, Falkirk, and East and Midlothian, to develop a Minimum Dataset for use across all 30 of Scotland’s Child Protection Committees. By developing an area’s capacity to better record, gather, present and analyse meaningful data, the Minimum Dataset can help to inform the planning and development of services to support child protection.
When we were first approached by CELCIS to be a test partner in developing a Minimum Dataset, we jumped at the chance. The timing could not have been better – it gave us the help we needed, when we needed it.
Looking back, we were at risk of drowning in data without proper focus. We’d done a fair amount of work over a couple of years on what sort of performance reporting we wanted, and how this could help us understand when the most effective time to intervene is, so that we’re not unnecessarily subjecting children and families to intrusive processes.
However, in reality we found that our reports were getting more detailed and longer. It wasn’t clear whether we were actually getting more analysis and a better understanding of practice from them. What we needed was a robust dataset that could support real improvements in the protection of children and young people.
An opportunity for change
A few years ago we had looked at what data was being collected across Scotland. We were very conscious that we were not reporting well, and so had done a brief mapping exercise. From this, we realised the benefit of having a minimum dataset. What we found, as CELCIS did when they started out on the Minimum Dataset work, was that there wasn’t an existing minimum dataset, and what was reported across Scotland was wide and varied, with no means to compare and benchmark.
With this in mind, we decided that becoming a test partner would be a great chance to work with external partners to improve our performance reporting to the Public Protection Committee, and to develop our capacity to better record, gather and analyse meaningful data to make more informed decisions about the lives of, and services for, children, young people and families.
We were also hoping to streamline our own reports and better understand what was critical for Child Protection Committees and Public Protection Committees* to review, thereby improving our joint analysis of the information so what we were reporting to the committees was what they needed to know.
Of course, at the heart of this, are the children, young people and families we work with. Anything that helps us to have more of an understanding of our child protection processes allows us to better respond and react to children and families who are in need of our support.
Overcoming the initial challenges
When we first got started, there were parts of the work that led to some scratching of heads! This was truly a new way of defining some of the data for us. The biggest challenge was being really clear what the definitions of the 17 indicators that need to be collated and reported to Child Protection Committees meant to us, and which provide an insight into the children, young people and families that we work with. The indicators contain a wide range of information, from the number of new child protection registrations to the percentage of Reporter’s decisions made within 50 working days of referral. Being really clear is essential to ensuring consistency across all Child Protection Committees.
For the first run of reports, it’s true what they say – the devil is in the detail! One or two figures can completely skew the picture and it’s really important to pay close attention to the numbers. There was a lot of backwards and forwards with the team at CELCIS, but this was really helpful and will be in the future in terms of comparative analysis.
Learning and adapting to change
Since becoming a test partner, we’ve streamlined our reporting. We haven’t ditched all the data we had but we’ve been able to better and more consistently analyse the data, so asking ‘what does it mean for us as a collective?’, which is helpful. We’ve also started looking at using the same format of reporting for both adult protection, and our annual reports, which means that our Public Protection Committee will be familiar with that kind of data reporting, they’ll know what to look for and they’ll become familiar with what messages are emerging.
During the process, we realised that we need operational staff and people who understand the system as part of the scrutiny group as well. Our Performance and Quality subcommittee participated in a workshop held by CELCIS who came and talked to them about data and how to analyse it. Off the back of that, we had one of our NHS health analyst teams come in and do some analysis with the whole group, helping to provide training to all those involved in performance data, including the Minimum Dataset. We’ve definitely learned how important it is to have the key partners round the table, and the opportunity to learn from others.
In the end, it all comes down to our ability to analyse when the most effective time to intervene actually is so that we can support children and families when they need it. A better understanding of what we’re doing means we can work towards getting the right level of intervention, at the right time.
Looking to the future
Now that we’re at the other end of our Minimum Dataset experience, I can wholeheartedly say that the more people who buy in to this, the more valuable it’s going to be for all Child Protection Committees. If everyone participates, we’re going to be able to compare and contrast across Scotland, which will be very helpful. I would absolutely say that it is absolutely worth doing because over time we’re all going to have access to the same information – in a year’s time, we’ll all be able to look back, see the reports, and compare the data. The value of this approach will only be fully realised when we are able to use this Minimum Dataset to compare and benchmark across Scotland.
It does take time, but in a period when resources are so tight we need to better understand what we’re doing. Not planning effectively in a time when resources are scarce is a waste of time and money - you need to invest in process that ensures that when making decisions, you’re making them with the most information that you can get.
It’s a bit of a leap of faith to start with, but if everybody took the leap of faith I think we’d all be better off and our understanding of child protection processes will be so much better.
* Dumfries and Galloway do not have a standalone Child Protection Committee. They have a Public Protection Committee that is also responsible for Child Protection Committee roles and functions.
The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author and may not represent the views or opinions of CELCIS or our funders.
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