Case study: Dumfries and Galloway Council's work with PACE

Year: 2016
Topic: Permanence
Author: Dumfries and Galloway Council

Analysing data might sound dry and dusty, but Mareen Vernon of Dumfries and Galloway Council says they aim to make real changes in the prospects of looked after children through better data gathering, improved paperwork and assessments, and by looking hard at what the data tells them.


Before Mareen Vernon, Information Officer at Dumfries and Galloway Council, started working with the Permanence and Care Excellence (PACE) delivery team, the recording system they used didn’t provide sufficient information to plan their improvement project. The recording system was used for tracking children’s permanence journeys, but didn’t contain enough information on key decision-making milestones and the timescales to achieve these. They didn’t have an easy way to identify the routes that children had taken, when decisions had been taken, and what those decisions were. For example, they didn’t know at what point information was passed to legal services, or how a decision for a specific permanence route had come about.

Bringing it all together

The Council wanted to bring everything together into one reporting framework. From this, social work staff and data teams could actually see the information they needed, follow the route easily, and if there were multiple routes for a specific child then they could see for each child why a route was taken, why the route was changed and what prompted the change, and all in a simple, analysable way.

The data team clarify what's needed

As part of the PACE programme, a data team was created which included one of the Council’s business managers, the CELCIS data analyst and Mareen. They worked together to clarify and identify the key data and timelines needed to accurately report and evidence decision-making towards achieving permanence.

The Council’s developers designed a new form, and asked a few social workers to try it out in their work with families. That highlighted some gaps in design, so the team came back together until the forms captured exactly what was needed.

The right decision for the child

They wanted to be sure that they could map each of the routes to permanence, every reason for a change in the permanence plan, and also highlight any drift in getting from one step to another. This meant that social workers could identify how they might improve the process and ultimately place a child in their long-term home quicker, while making sure it was the right decision for the child.

The aim of project was to use improvement methodology to understand the current permanence process and to bring meaningful change.

Mareen said:

"Everyone involved was on board with the idea and bought into it because of the PACE aim; everyone was aware that how we plan for children’s permanent care ultimately helps to give children the best possible chance to succeed.  And everyone agreed that it was fundamentally important to reduce drift and delay in this process.

"It’s going to make a massive difference because now, whenever a review is held on a looked after child, one of the first questions raised is what the permanence plan for this child is, and then we think about how are we going to implement this plan, do we have any stumbling blocks, and how can we make this child achieve a permanent home as quickly as possible?"

Initially, the data group will produce reports every two weeks to ensure that those working directly with the child have better quality data to assist with planning and decision-making.

Mareen Vernon is a management information officer in the resources section of the social work and education department at the council, where PACE started in February 2016.