Call for partners to pilot potential of analysing case notes to assist social workers

07 February 2019

The What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care, in partnership with the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, is looking for local authority partners to embark on a series of pilot studies to explore the use of predictive analytics in children’s social care and specifically to test if it can be used to help reduce the escalation of cases.

Predictive analytics could be used to identify patterns by analysing large quantities of case note data and outcome data that an individual social worker couldn’t reasonably process individually. Advances in this technology has successfully assisted decision-making in multiple fields, from commercial industry to medicine. Researchers and companies are now suggesting that these techniques could be used to benefit the children’s social care sector and are producing tools which purport to help social workers to make decisions, and in some cases even to make the decisions themselves. That is why the Centre feels it is important to lead an evidence led debate on when and where these tools are effective, ethical and acceptable.

The Centre hopes these pilots will help to answer key questions including:
Can predictive analytics be useful in Children’s Social Care?
If so, in what circumstances?
And importantly, just because we can use predictive analytics, should we?

Participating local authorities will be expected – following appropriate due diligence and data protection processes – to make case note and outcome data available to the What Works Centre and the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, and to participate in occasional workshops to help us understand the results of the analysis.

To complement this programme of work, the Centre will be looking to commission independent research on the ethics of predictive analytics in Children’s Social Care later in the year, as well as hosting a discussion event in March with stakeholders from across the sector to explore both the practical and ethical issues this work presents.

Michael Sanders, Executive Director of the What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care said:

“I’m delighted that we’ll be beginning this partnership with the Office of the Children’s Commissioner on this important topic.

“We believe predictive analytics might have great potential in helping professionals in their work with children and families, and these pilots will help determine this potential.

“But there are a number of risks using big data, as well as a lot of misinformation out there regarding the application of predictive analytics which we hope to uncover, consider and address.

“To be crystal clear on one important point, these pilots are about seeing if there are tools which could assist frontline workers make decisions, and not about making decisions for them.”

“We’re hoping that these pilots can help uncover when it works, when it doesn’t, and when and how it can and should be used. ”

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said:

“My office has shown there are 1.6 million children in England in families with substantial complex needs, who may not be getting any recognised form of support, and not get any help until is too late.”

“While the system needs more resources, I’m also interested in whether better data and insights can help services to spot earlier which children might need help, and what level of help.

“Predictive analytics and machine learning provide exciting new opportunities to test this idea, which is why I’m very happy to be supporting this pilot with the What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care.”

To register an interest to take part in the pilots, or for more information, please complete this form by 5pm 1st March 2019.


Notes to editors:
Media enquiries contact: Sam Cunningham 07980 014971
Children’s Commissioner for England.
The Children’s Commissioner for England is Anne Longfield OBE. She speaks up for children and young people so that policymakers and the people who have an impact on their lives take their views and interests into account when making decisions about them. Independent of Government and Parliament, the Children’s Commissioner has unique powers to help bring about long-term change and improvements for all children, particularly the most vulnerable. She does this by first gathering evidence: talking to children and young people, requesting information from public institutions and then carrying out research and compiling information on the wide range of things that affect children’s lives. She also provides advice to children who are in or leaving care, living away from home or working with social services through her advice line, Help at Hand.

What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care
The What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care is a new initiative that seeks better outcomes for children, young people and families by bringing the best available evidence to practitioners and other decision makers across the children’s social care sector. Our mission is to foster a culture of evidence-informed practice. We will generate evidence where it is found to be lacking, improve its accessibility and relevance to the practice community, and support practice leaders (e.g. principal social workers, heads of service, assistant directors and directors) to create the conditions for more evidence-informed practice in their organisations.