When ‘collaboration’ stops being a buzzword and becomes life-changing, even life-saving.
People sometimes complain that the state holds too much information about individuals. Perhaps what’s more concerning is that the data that does exist is not better used by agencies to protect the most vulnerable in society.
Sharing data works
We know from a series of different court cases and inquiry reports that crucial data which could and should have triggered warning signs is too often missed. The most depressingly familiar examples are perhaps the cases of young children abused within their families – sometimes fatally - where records from schools, social services, GPs and hospitals were never brought together to present the true picture of what was being perpetrated.
Helping to identify the vulnerable
More recently, a new phenomenon has emerged: of teenage girls in cities across the UK falling victim to street grooming and being sexually abused by networks of men. It is now clear that many of these girls were displaying behaviour which should have identified them as at risk of such abuse. But such behaviour – absence from school, running away from home or children’s home, alcohol and drug use, petty theft, seeking emergency contraception – was recorded by multiple different agencies, lacking the ability to pool their caseloads and see the bigger picture.
Visibility shows the bigger picture
In almost all these cases, relevant information in each agency was held electronically, but in a wide range of formats, and with varying abilities to transmit information between systems. That makes pooling data from different systems difficult – but not impossible. Algorithms are now available which analyse datasets in different formats and match individuals’ records, even where some information is partial. That means a more rounded picture of an individual can be built up, which can be analysed to identify the risks of harm they may be facing. The most at-risk individuals can be offered tailored support or removed from the situation which is causing harm.
Collaboration in action
One example of such cross-agency working is in South Wales, where Blaenau Gwent, Torfaen and Caerphilly local authorities and the local health service provider work with Atos to pool information on potentially vulnerable individuals, match up records from different databases, and then analyse each service user for risk factors and potential extra support. It is a methodology which could be replicated across the country.