Tuesday, 8 February 2011

ICS and the Mountain

I was struck by the following comment in Molly Garboden’s piece in Community Care yesterday (“Munro's 'ideal' vision of child protection social work” Monday 07 February 2011 - http://www.communitycare.co.uk/Articles/2011/02/07/116232/munros-ideal-vision-of-child-protection-social-work.htm )
“There is much less in the latest report than in her (Munro’s) first installment, however, about ICS becoming an intuitive decision-making tool similar to those used in the airline industry and medicine. It seems likely that, even in an ideal world, Munro recognised that there is a pretty big mountain for ICS to climb.” (my underlining)
If this is an accurate prediction of what the review will ultimately recommend   – and hopefully it is not - then it is sad. In my view no amount of remedial work is going to make the Integrated Children’s System (ICS) fit for purpose. That is because it is misconceived. Rather than supporting the professional work that child protection social workers do, ICS imposes an unrealistic model of practice. Completing all the forms and ticking all the boxes doesn’t result in better decision-making. In fact it impedes it, not only because is it time consuming, but also because frequently it is not possible to gather good quality data. The results are thousands upon thousands of yes/no boxes checked on which people do not (and should not) rely when making their decisions.

The purpose of child protection social work is not completing assessments. Assessments are only useful if they accurately inform decisions about whether or not, and how, to intervene in the life of a child. In order to have useful IT in child protection, it is necessary to begin by building an accurate understanding of how sound decisions are taken and what support social workers need in taking them.

Management accountants have an old – but precious – adage: sunk costs are history. Just because a lot of money, time and effort have been spent on something in the past has no bearing on whether it makes sense to continue spending money, time and effort on it in the future.

To borrow Molly’s metaphor: I don’t want to see ICS climbing any mountains. It’s best discarded at base camp. Otherwise its weight and cumbersomeness will cause climbers to lose their footings and bring the whole expedition to a sorry end.