There is more to data sharing than just numbers

Posted by Dan Breslin / Tuesday 04 August 2015 / Children's centres Early intervention
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Parents and children may come into contact with their local children’s centres through a number of different routes. It might be through an ante-natal class, a new baby health check drop in, a referral from a heath visitor or a friend. Some centres may even offer birth registrations in children’s centres to help get parents through the door and show them the benefits the children’s centres can offer.

However, sometimes parents won’t find their way to a children’s centre in these ways and reaching out to them is really important. It might be a letter advertising a particular programme, or a home visit from a worker or from a volunteer. Sometimes parents are also struggling and need extra help to care for their children.

To support as many parents and children as possible, children’s centres need information to find families in their local area. This should be given to children’s centres by local authorities through sharing birth data. But many centres are still not getting this in a timely manner. It means that some children’s centres are missing the chance to reach out to new parents just after the birth of their child – a crucial window for engaging with families.

We surveyed over 450 staff working in 250 children’s centres across England. We found that:

28% OF CHILDREN’S CENTRES DO NOT HAVE AN FORMAL DATA SHARING ARRANGEMENTS WITH PARTNER AGENCIES

We need a system that will give children’s centres information about births in their area which is consistent and helpful. The Tell Us Once scheme, used to register new births and deaths, already offers a model that can be built upon. It offers parents a quick and simple way to register a birth. It only takes them a matter of minutes to complete, and the information collected can be shared with children’s centres – as it currently is with a number of agencies such as HMRC. It would provide children’s centres with knowledge about families in their area, even if they have not have visited the  centre previously. They can then reach out to parents and children more easily.

Once children’s centres have begun working with families it is important they have an effective way to record the support and difference they make to children.

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There are already many different types of records kept by staff in children’s centres for a host of reporting duties. There is a similar situation for health professionals and other agencies that work with families. Unfortunately, these different records are rarely joined up.

This means professionals across a range of services miss out on having the full picture about the families they work with. There is no way to easily share new information which means effective early intervention is harder to deliver. A unique identifier – a number which follows  each child from when they are born through to school would help remedy this. It would act as a reference to bring records together and for information to be easily shared. There are currently unique number generated by local authorities, such as the Unique Pupil Number and health services, such as the NHS number, which could be utilised as a unique identifier across the early years.

Using a unique identifier would have the benefit of allowing better tracking a child’s journey through the early years to monitor their progress and step in if additional support may be beneficial. It would also help policymakers and professionals judge which intervention and services are making a positive difference, and provide extra help to the most vulnerable children

Birth data and unique identifiers may not be the most thrilling aspect of the amazing work of children’s centres. However, if we can get these working effectively for all children’s centres then then they will be in a much stronger position to reach out to families and deliver early help to those children who need it.

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