In every local authority, data is used to monitor the performance of services. Alastair Lee, Children’s Services Data and Information Manager of East Sussex County Council and Chair of the Children’s Services National Performance and Information Management Group discussed the importance of measuring data in children’s services.

Data supports conversations between managers and frontline staff, helping them get a better understanding of the demands on the service, the pressure on staff and the impact on children and young people.

There is a vast amount of child-level administrative data available to the children’s social care sector. However, there continues to be a significant gap in the capacity of local authorities to make effective use of their own data. Other local authority data and national-level data are used to inform their operational decision-making and evaluate their performance.

Most local authorities report that they do not have the analytical capacity to use this data to generate insights to improve their current and future performance.

Why Measure Performance?

Data is a powerful tool for measuring the impact and effectiveness of a service. Data should be used to measure the performance of children’s services so that:

  • A better understanding of how well the system or project is working can be obtained
  • A local authority can check whether the quality of the project is up to scratch
  • It can be ensured that all clients are getting the same level of service
  • Areas for improvement can be highlighted

“Without measuring performance and trying to understand what it means; we will be developing services based off of anecdotal experience. Good quality data adds to the anecdote and professional gut feeling, to ensure that we do not run services based off prejudice and assumptions

Previous Director of Children’s Services at East Sussex Council

The relationship between what the data shows and what the professional on the front line is experiencing is important in understanding the experiences of disadvantaged children. Data can show the effectiveness of the technique that the frontline worker is using; this collaborative effort should inform a better service.

How Can the Data be Used?

The Process: Data can reveal the timeframe between the implementation of a service and the delivery of a service.  It can show how many children it has helped and how often it is helping.

This was particularly useful during Covid-19 as data gathered by the Children’s Services National Performance and Information Management Group revealed that services were less frequently accessed when schools were closed, but the frequency shot back up when schools reopened.

This type of knowledge can inform service providers of the demand for services during certain periods of the year. Resources can then be adapted to cater to fluctuating demand.

Data can show how often particular children and families are using a service. This can inform service providers on the need to escalate certain cases to give them access to more intensive support.

Impact and Outcomes: Data can show what has changed because of service, compared to what the services intended to change.

For example, the data can reveal whether attendance in schools improved after a strategy was put in place to improve school attendance. If the data shows that nothing has changed, or the change is minimal then action can be taken.

Service User Feedback and Evaluation: It is always important to ask service users how they feel after engaging with the service as this can be recorded and then analysed. Additionally, positive, or negative experiences can be quantified for a better understanding of what was effective and not so effective.

A project evaluation report analyses the impact of a project. This type of report usually consists of raw data that explicitly shows the effectiveness of a project through numerical values, as opposed to more subjective opinions.

Characteristics: The gender, ethnicity, age, and location of service users can be recorded in datasets to identify trends. Demographic data on users can also inform providers as to whether every child is getting equal access to the services they need.

Data may bring any presence of unconscious bias and willful blindness in children’s services to attention as it can reveal disproportionality in outreach.

The Data Collection Process

Firstly, the service provider ought to research what data has already been collected on similar projects as well as noting the techniques used to collect the data. Alastair advised that there is no need to re-invent the wheel if the methodology has previously proved effective.

However, there should be an awareness about whether previously used methods are outdated or clunky when designing the data collection strategy. Additionally, less is more. “Useful data” is more valuable than “Big data”.

There should be a project lead within the local authority and they should take ownership of the data collection, determining how the measure will be collected and reported.

Most importantly, a face-to-face meeting is essential upon the completion of the data collection to identify areas of concern and improvement. An action plan can then be agreed on.

Overall, data is a valuable tool for children’s services providers to reflect on the effectiveness of their projects and services. However, Alastair is firm that data is only part of the story.

For service providers to deliver the best support, they should ensure good relationships with partners and strong management and oversight. The data can be used as a tool to improve these things; however, it cannot replace human intuition and emotional intelligence which is essential when working with young people.

Most importantly, children and families are best supported when frontline workers maintain strong relationships between themselves and the children and families they are assisting.

[1] Lee, Alastair. 2021. Children’s Services Data and Information Manager, East Sussex County Council and Vice-Chair, Children’s Services National Performance, and Information Management Group

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Data is a powerful tool for monitoring the performance of children’s services. Alastair Lee of East Sussex County Council and the Children’s Services National Performance and Information Management Group shared recommendations on how to use data and effectively how to use data to improve the outcomes of disadvantaged children.

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