The Integrated Children’s System, the electronic case record system for social care, has failed to prove itself fit for purpose according to an independent evaluation commissioned by the government but never published.

Completed in May 2007, the report from the University of York states that the evaluation “raises serious reservations about the design and use of ICS in its present form” and claims that the system has “yet to demonstrate the degree to which and how it is fit for purpose.”

The authors looked at four pilot sites for the ICS in Wales and England between 2004 and 2006, reporting on how the system worked, its impact on social workers and service users and on its impact to children with disabilities.

The Department for Education and Skills [now the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) ] never published the report, instead publishing their own key findings, but the full report has now been obtained by the pressure group Action for Rights of Children under a Freedom of Information Act request.

Terri Dowty, director of Action for Rights of Children, told EHI Primary Care: “The message the full report paints is completely different to the government’s key findings document. The full report says the system has yet to demonstrate how it is fit for purpose, that it is taking social workers away from contact with families and that the social workers who had been using it the longest had the greatest concerns about it.”

The report found that two-thirds of social workers thought the ICS was as an advance on previous paper-based systems and had the potential to bring major benefits. However, the ICS was also criticised for being too prescriptive, too long and repetitive and cumbersome to use. The evaluation team recommended that the exemplars (records) used on the system should be simplified and shortened, that there should be more flexibility in use of the system and that the systems for inter-agency information sharing should be carefully reviewed.

The report adds: “There should be clarity as to how information sharing will be promoted, funded and prioritised across health, education and CSSRs [Councils with Social Services Responsibilities].”

Local authorities were expected to implement the ICS by January 2007 but when that target was missed, another deadline was fixed for the end of March 2008 for implementation of phase 1, the original specification, together with an enhanced specification phase 1B. Approximately 95 councils were expected to miss the deadline, which has now been extended to the end of September.

The DCSF is expected to make an announcement on future development of the ICS in a few weeks time.