The data-driven social worker
Newcastle City Council has been using data to change the way it delivers long-term social work to vulnerable children and families.
Social workers have data analysts working alongside them. This is helping them to identify common factors among types of cases, understand the root causes of social problems and create more effective (and earlier) interventions.
What is it?
Social work teams have an embedded data analyst, whose role is to look for hypotheses to test and analysis to perform that offers insight into how best to support families.
Their role is not purely quantitative; they are expected to identify patterns, and undertake deep-dive or case study analysis. The data analysts also test what works, measuring the success of externally commissioned services, along with cost information.
While each social worker only has knowledge of their own individual cases, data analysts have a bird’s-eye view of the whole team’s activity, enabling them to look across sets of families for common patterns.
How does it work?
Data analysts are responsible for maintaining ChildStat, a data dashboard that social workers use to help manage their caseloads. The data insights found by the embedded analysts can highlight the need to work in a different way.
For example, one unit works with children at risk of physical abuse. Case file analysis of the mental health histories of the parents found that 20% of children had parents with a personality disorder, while 60-70% had a parent who had experienced sexual or physical abuse as children themselves.
Traditional social work methods may not have uncovered this insight, which led Newcastle to look for new responses to working with these types of families.
Data analysis has also helped to identify the factors that are most predictive of a child becoming NEET (not in education, employment or training), enabling the team to review their approach to working with families and focus on earlier intervention.
What are the benefits?
Not only does this approach help to identify at-risk children and families, it enables the council to develop better and more preventative responses, predict service demand and allocate scarce resources more efficiently.
Social workers have reported being consistently happier with the working environment and have lower levels of absence than colleagues still working in the traditional social work model.
Dashboards reduce the amount of management time tied up in compliance, which means supervision with managers can be more oriented on improving practice. Early indications are that the data-led social work teams are closing cases quicker and have fewer re-referrals than non-data led teams, and are using fewer external services.