Family Context - Digital solutions for improving decisions on support for vulnerable children BETA

Project details:

Organisation Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council
Department IT
Collaboration Level Share Ideas
Budget £250k > £500k
Key Contact Craig Hughes
Phase start 15 September 2019
Phase Estimated end 31 January 2020



In June 2018 Social Finance, Stockport Council, Leeds City Council and 13 other local authorities came together to discuss obstacles to delivering the right support to children and families. The theme that kept resurfacing is that social workers seldom have access to all the information they need on a child and their family when deciding whether there is a safeguarding risk and what support is most appropriate.  

Stockport Council, Leeds City Council and Social Finance set out to identify a solution that would give social workers a more holistic understanding of a child and their family. This ensures that children are safeguarded; the right decisions are made the first time around; and services work together to provide wrap-around support. 


During discovery and alpha phases of this work, we used agile principles and extensive user research to understand and frame the problem and iterate possible solutions with social workers. We found that social workers want access to the contact details of the lead practitioner of a case from other services and basic information on when the service was last involved with the family. Testing during alpha showed that our prototype enabled social workers to: (a) Build an understanding of the family by talking to people who have a direct relationship with them; (b) Collaborate with other services in supporting the family; (c) Access more information to appropriately assess risk.


In October 2019 we entered a private beta phase, during which Family Context will be rolled out to localities in Stockport and Leeds. During private beta we will enable a locality team in Stockport and one in Leeds to enjoy these benefits, and we will open source guidance and tools to enable other local authorities to implement Family Context, bringing the same benefits to their social workers. 


The purpose of our project is summarised in our purpose statement:

“To more effectively harness the power of our data, enabling front line workers to identify the services that are working with vulnerable children and their families, better understand the family, family relationships and risks, and ultimately enable more effective coordination of support to ensure children are safeguarded appropriately”

We're doing this because:

  • Safeguarding and supporting vulnerable children is a key statutory duty of Local Authorities
  • Every day, Local Authorities make decisions on the most vulnerable children, decisions that can have a massive impact on their lives.
  • The correct decision will help to protect the children from harm and help ensure the families get the right support.
  • The wrong decision may mean the wrong support and potentially puts the child at risk
  • Budget cuts alongside an increase in demand means we need to make the right decision first time, reducing the likelihood of costly escalation
  • Local Authorities cannot afford to provide inappropriate support.

Our aims are to:

  • Provide greater awareness of which services are involved with children and their families to improve decision making and drive better outcomes e.g. avoiding unnecessary escalation
  • Reduce ad-hoc, and sometimes inappropriate, information sharing/requests
  • Reduce intensive manual data sharing processes
  • Enable collaboration between Local Authorities, by designing solutions to work for multiple authorities
  • Work in an agile manner, sharing progress in the open




Status Updates

10 February 2020

  • Craig Hughes

    w/c 3rd February


    • Yesterday all parties met in Stockport. The day consisted of a Show and Tell to share progress; and a Retrospective session to reflect on things that have gone well, as well as challenges in the project. It was great to have Manchester City Council present to hear about how some of their own work could be well aligned to the Family Context tool. (Further details from the day will be shared with the wider team).

    • Social Finance spoke to another 3 social workers as part of the second round of Beta user research in Leeds

    • Stockport’s blog has been posted on the Social Finance Medium Account found here:

    • Stockport have had an internal meeting to decide the technical team and the ways they would like to work with the digital agency


    • In the user research this week, social workers commented on the ambiguity of Police service involvement being listed as ‘current’. They were curious to know if this meant a conviction had already been made. This will be something to consider as more work is done around defining the Police data fields.

    • From Leeds’ work with Police, we have learnt about the importance of not disregarding close matches that have been made against people in the MDM and the Police database. Instead, these should be used to learn how the matching can be strengthened.

    What’s next:   

    • Social Finance and Stockport have a project kick off meeting with Softwire on Monday 10th.

    • Leeds is in the process of recruiting an agency staff to help with the frontend of their build.

    • Stockport have a meeting with GMP on 19th February.

06 February 2020

  • Craig Hughes

    w/c 27th January


    • A review call took place on Tuesday to discuss what progress Leeds and Stockport have made with accessing the data sources, and the implications this had for launching the tool. The most likely scenarios seem positive, and the team have agreed to have another review call before taking a final decision on the 10th March.

    • Stockport have written the first blog for the beta phase of the project. It has been published on Digital Stockport and will be put onto the Family Context Medium.

    • Leeds have had another meeting with a data business analyst within Police. They have suggested a new solution for matching the data, which Leeds will now assess.

    • Stockport have recruited a back-fill developer who will be supporting the project. Learnings:  

    • SF have learnt that demonstrating the Application Programming Interface (API) is useful for the local technical teams to plan their implementations.

    What’s next:  

    • Leeds have meetings scheduled with Business Intelligence officers from School, Adult Social Care and the Children’s Case Management system to further discuss the sharing of data for the tool.

    • Stockport and SF, will be preparing for the digital agency to begin their work. They hope to have a kick off call with the agency by the end of the week.

    • Leeds are speaking to their internal technical teams about work that needs to be done to their current infrastructure, particularly the Master Data Management system, in order to prepare for the tool.

    • On Thursday, all parties will come together in Stockport for the second beta Show and Tell followed by a project Retrospective session.

    w/c 20th January


    • Leeds has made progress with engaging the data sources:

    o They met with Police to start to go through the different types of offences, and have another meeting booked in to work out which are relevant for the Family Context tool

    o They had a positive meeting with the Business Owner for Housing data, who is considering the request o In the meantime, they have shared the questions around the data quality checks with both of these services to get more information, and prepare for the checks being carried out

    • Stockport have the sign off from the owners of School, Adult Social Care and Housing data

    • Stockport have written a blog which will be circulated internally first, and then posted onto Medium

    • SF have done some planning around the deliverables to work out timelines and structures

    • MHCLG have met with SF to hear updates on the project, particularly around accessing the data Learnings: 

    • Leeds have reflected that an agreement in principle, with an organisation to share data, is only the start of what is actually a long journey to obtaining the datasets  

    What’s next: 

    • On Tuesday, all parties will take part in a review call to discuss what the next steps are, in consideration of the progress around data sources

    • Leeds will be looking at the job requirements for recruiting a technical contractor (via the Council’s framework agreement) to help build the Master Data Management and the Sequel Server Integration Service

    w/c 13th January


    -On Tuesday, SF met Hannah from MHCLG as she has taken over from Sam. SF gave her an introduction to the project, and she is keen to get involved and provide support where she can. Another meet-up is already arranged for next week!

    -Leeds have had a positive meeting with West Yorkshire Police, who have said they will be able to assist with the technical aspects of accessing the data.

    -Stockport and SF shortlisted two digital agencies from the proposals they received, with a stronger preference for one.

    -Stockport and SF had a clarification call with the favoured digital agency, who showed willingness to turn things around and start the project quickly.


    -Leeds have learnt that the measuring of data quality and assurance for the purpose of Family Context is not the traditional approach usually found in the course of business functions and service provision.

    -SF and Leeds have learnt through analysing the school dataset that Synergy only holds a generic school contact number. More research will go into checking who social workers currently speak to, when calling a school, to determine if this presents an issue.

    What’s next:

    -SF, on Stockport’s behalf, are hoping to have a contract signed with a digital agency by early next week.

    -On Tuesday, there will be a final data sources workshop call. This should help to inform the decision that will be taken around data sources, which is now set for the 28th January.

    - In Leeds, Solutions Architects will be finalising the Master Data Management technical architecture requirements and associated costings for this infrastructure.

    -Next Friday, all parties will take part in a project retrospective.

10 January 2020

  • Craig Hughes

    w/c 6th January


    -SF have now shared the initial data quality checklists for all four services. 

    -Leeds have agreement on the data sets with Adult Social Care.  

    -SF are reviewing the proposals submitted from digital agencies against the criteria agreed with Stockport. 

    -SF and Stockport have had a meeting about the technical implementation to understand the API and to begin discussing the deployment of the digital agency.  

     -Stockport, knowing that data sharing across agencies in Greater Manchester is high on the agenda for 2020, have had an initial call with Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) to understand how they will be able to support them in delivery.  

    -SF had a positive conversation with iStandUK, a national body for data standards. They are keen to promote Family Context and support the project in its development standards around data. 



    -Stockport have learnt that if an automated data feed is not possible, and it is necessary to utilise a manual process in the short term, then there are support implications that will need to be understood and documented in more detail. 


    What’s next? 

    -SF will present Stockport with their recommendation around which digital agency to contract. 

    - Leeds and Stockport both have meetings scheduled with Police in the coming two weeks. 

     -The second round of Beta user research is being organised in Leeds. 

    -SF will present their recommendation based on the conversations they have had with Service Leads and IG. This will help to finalise the appropriate usage of the tool.  

    - Stockport will be commencing recruitment for a back-fill position to cover colleague(s) in the supporting and overseeing of the build. 

    -In Leeds, Solutions Architects will be producing a paper as part of their formal Enterprise Architecture Process. This will draw out different technical options for building the tool. 

03 January 2020

  • Craig Hughes

    w/c 16th December


    -Leeds hosted the first face-to-face between all parties on Tuesday. It was a chance to reflect on the progress the project has made, some of the challenges it faces, and brainstorm potential solutions together. 

    -SF have reached out to a number of digital agencies to work on the Stockport implementation. 

     - Conversations have been held between SF and Leeds or Stockport to review the DPIA with their chosen options of the Family Context tool in mind. 



    - With Police data, it is important to distinguish between data fields and data values. This will help to determine which data values are irrelevant with regards to the safeguarding of children (e.g. parking offences). 

    -The get-together on Tuesday demonstrated the value of working in a collaborative manner, and that linking up more counterparts between Leeds and Stockport (e.g. Information Governance team members and technical architects) could be valuable. 


    What’s next: 

    -Leeds are holding further discussions with Housing around permissions to use their data, now with the added support of their Information Governance team. 

    - SF, on behalf of Stockport, are expecting to receive proposals from some digital agencies early in the new year. 

    - SF will be sending out some initial data quality questions around School and Adult Social Care to Leeds and Stockport. 

    -Conversations will continue with the Service leads of each Local Authority to define the appropriate usage of the tool. 

    w/c 9th December


    -Stockport gave their monthly update on the progress of the project at Stockport Families Digital Board.

    -In Leeds, Solutions Architects have been assigned and the 1st scoping exercise has been undertaken.

    -Stockport and SF have agreed the criteria for contracting a digital agency.

    - The 2nd round of Beta user research took place in Stockport with 4 locality social workers. This specifically focused on searching and selecting individuals to align with the option that Stockport has chosen.

    -Through conversations, SF and social worker team managers in Leeds have started to form an initial perspective on how the tool should be used. This was followed up with a discussion with service leads.

    -SF updated the information governance team in Stockport with their chosen implementation option to gather their initial thoughts.



    -Leeds have learnt that often datasets have already been made available by partner organisations for other safeguarding requirements. Whilst this means data sharing conversations are facilitated, there needs to be additional efforts to confirm to purpose and ethical reasons for sharing that data.


    What’s next?:

    - On Tuesday, Leeds, Stockport and SF will meet. The day will involve a show and tell, a working session and a retro/futurespective. 

    - In Leeds, Solutions Architects will review the underlying architecture of the MDM (Master Data Management) to ensure it is fit for purpose. Following this they will undertake an options appraisal.

    - In terms of Stockport’s implementation, SF will reach out to the agreed list of digital agencies to ask for proposals.

    -Conversations will continue with information governance and service leads in both local authorities.

02 December 2019

  • Craig Hughes

    Please find below recent updates relating to our project - we will continue to provide regular updates as we continue our beta journey!  Please get in touch if you have any questions or are keen to hear more.

    w/c 25th November:


    -  All parties were involved in a meeting to discuss the engagement of data owners. This will now occur on a bi-weekly basis as it was felt to be useful and a priority in order for implementation to happen. 

    -Stockport have shared their tech specifications with SF, who are now in the processing of reviewing it. 

    - Two remote interviews concluded the 1st round of Beta user research in Stockport today. This was followed by a synthesis session to discuss findings and identify common themes. 

    -SF has started to assign deliverables to specific individuals. This should make it clearer for Leeds and Stockport when it comes to knowing which members of the SF team to coordinate with. 



    - Leeds have felt that more discussions with partner agencies around datasets should have happened in the Alpha stage. 

    - Members of SF participated in a day of user research training. They learnt about the importance of keeping tight cycles between rounds of product development and user research. It is not useful to have one much further ahead than the other because it will create a disconnect between how the tool functions and what users need.  


    What’s next? 

    -Leeds and SF have a meeting on Monday to come to a decision on which is the best option to implement in Leeds. A similar meeting between Stockport and SF is scheduled for Tuesday. 

    -The 1st round of Beta user research in Leeds is almost confirmed for next Wednesday. 

    -There are plans to get all parties together before Christmas. This will provide a good opportunity to do a show and tell; and have a retrospective as a wider team, discussing both progress and challenges. 

    w/c 18th November:


    - Stockport and Leeds are aligned with the work streams and roadmap around product implementation in their areas. Everyone has agreed that it has been helpful in terms of understanding what needs to happen for implementation to take place.

    - SF have been working on documents around ‘appropriate usage of the tool’ and ‘data justifications’ which will be shared with Leeds and Stockport today to help support conversations with service leads and data owners respectively.

    - Stockport have submitted their DPIA to IG for the final sign off.

    - Leeds have had some positive meetings with police this week. Meanwhile, the project team in Stockport have received details of GMP contacts which can enable their engagement.

    - SF participated in a Design Review Workshop to get a fresh perspective on the prototype of the Family Context tool.



    - From a conversation with Sam, SF learnt the importance of capturing the specific feedback on the designs from user research so that there is detailed and quantified evidence in place when questions are raised during the implementation and testing phases.

    - Stockport feel they have some work to do regarding how they feel they should define their engagement with procured agency (i.e. paired programming, supervisory etc).

    - Leeds has found that moving from initial agreeing to actual content is challenging when it comes to agency involvement.

    - From the Design Review Workshop, SF took away the message that thinking about the utility of the tool rather than focussing too much on the UI/UX may help to drive long-term usage.


    What’s next?

    - A project call on Monday will discuss documents produced by SF regarding the roadmap for implementation in Leeds and Stockport.

    - A workshop call is scheduled for everyone to discuss progress in terms of engaging data sources.

    - Two remote user research sessions with SWs from Stockport has been arranged for Friday to complete 1st round of research in Stockport.



    w/c 11th November: 


    - All teams have been involved in redefining the Comms proposal into a Comms plan. It has been provisionally agreed with further dates for review in place. As part of this, a new Medium account has been set up, which will soon have its first published blog!

    - SF and the Leeds team met on Thursday to have an intro with the project team and meet the team managers in the locality area.

    - SF have been working on mapping out the work streams for the implementation of the product in both Leeds and Stockport, which will bring greater clarity as to who the appropriate people are to work on certain things.



    - Rich was at a GDS user-centred design meetup yesterday, where the issue of ‘can I trust the data?’ was discussed. It seems it was possible to navigate around the problem by including statements like ‘this has been checked by x system/service’ - multiple hours of user research found that this brought people reassurance. Now the question is: are we able to leverage these findings?

    - It is difficult for Leeds and Stockport to approach data owners without a specific use case. We need to work together to define the proposed usage of the tool and present the data justifications.

    - It would be valuable to use the work streams to help organise future conversations/meetings. This would ensure that the appropriate people are present and bring structure.

    - The earlier the engagement the better for change enabling departments like Finance, Legal etc.


    What’s next?

    - Next week, Stockport will be sharing their refined tech approach from the tech discovery.

    - Conversations with service leads and IG practitioners to decide appropriate usage of information on Family Context.

    - SF and Stockport continue to work together to find a digital agency, with a decision over who should lead the conversation also taking place.

20 May 2019

  • Craig Hughes

    Currently working on final report to submit to MHCLG.  Drafting a blog summarising our prototype work - links to previous blogs with further details below:


    Design Sprint