Friday, 14 October 2011

The Integrated Children’s System – stop messing about!!

The Integrated Children’s System (ICS) is an approach to computerising ‘children’s social care’ (children in need, child protection, children in care etc.) developed by the last British Government. Our present government has not said much about it, but Professor Eileen Munro’s recent report on child protection ( had some suitably harsh words for a system which by common consent is manifestly unfit for purpose.

Munro helpfully prescribes three things that are required of any children’s social care IT:

• It should meet the critical need to maintain a systemic family narrative
• It should be able to adapt easily to changes in local child protection system needs
• It should be based on a human-centred analysis of what is required by frontline workers

ICS provides none of these. The approach followed until 2010 was driven by an elaborate and increasingly bizarre collection of ‘exemplars’ many of which were adapted from the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need ( In concentrating on this framework the ‘architects’ (I use the word with reservations) of ICS seem to have forgotten that providing services to children in need involves much more than repeatedly assessing them. And they seem to have forgotten that it is of central importance to have a record which explains what has happened, what has been done and why.

Why such a completely unrealistic approach was taken to computerising children’s social care records cannot easily be explained. Systems were probably designed by committees of bureaucrats and by social work academics who had little understanding of how effective IT systems are created. The result – as is widely acknowledged - is a disaster in waiting.

What is even more frustrating is the fact that civil servants do not seem to be offering any sensible advice to local authorities in the light of what seems to be yet another Government inspired IT mess. 

There you will find only a brief acknowledgement that Munro’s general approach is correct, followed by pages and pages of guidance, all dated pre-March 2010, which is steeped in the worst fallacies and silly assumptions of the ICS project as originally envisaged, and expressed in the excruciatingly toe-curling gobbledegook which seems to have been de rigueur for those who drafted it.

The Department of Education needs to get a hold on this situation. It should stop trying to square circles with such weasel words as:

“The guidance developed by the expert panel continues to be relevant to the modification of existing electronic recording systems in accordance with the principles (Munro's) set out above.”

Come off it. The guidance is not only not relevant, it often does not make any sense and even when it does it is not wise. It serves no good purpose but to mislead and distract. It should be taken down. All you have to do to assure yourself that this is true is to follow the link on page 2 of the guidance and to look at an “ics recording formats deconstruction table” (whatever that is!) or read the wretched paper on ‘interoperability’ to which a link is provided on page 3. Don’t be conned into thinking that there is someone somewhere who understands this stuff. There isn’t.

Moving forward on ICS requires frank admissions that the project commenced under the last Government is totally misconceived and, like other Government IT projects, that it has been managed in an amateurish, if not naïve, way. The way forward is to admit frankly past mistakes, not seek to pretend that they are in some way part of the new way forward. And there needs to be a completely new approach, with, if necessary, new people at the helm.