AI and children’s social care

Local authorities generate an enormous amount of data, but do not have the capacity to extract insight which could deliver important benefits in safeguarding and prevention, as well as significant cost savings at a time when soaring social care costs are placing pressure on local budgets. 

With rising demand for services and the increasing complexity of the challenges that families face, it is clear that the sector needs to innovate.

The use of AI in social care can support professionals to better understand and act upon key data about children and families. 

The Coram Innovation Incubator (CII) is a vehicle for generating, testing and scaling new approaches to the most important and intractable challenges in children’s services. 

Coram and partners including local authorities across the country, Microsoft, Ernst and Young, and PA Consulting, are developing a series of innovative digital projects that are shifting the dial.

North Yorkshire Council is pioneering a new tool that uses AI to trawl through a mass of both structured and unstructured data about a child to develop an ‘ecomap’ to highlight the people and places important to the individual. 

The tool, funded by the Department for Education’s Children’s Social Care Digital and Data Solutions Fund, and supported by CII, provides social workers with key information at the click of a button, enabling them to identify those who can help to keep a child safe and those who may pose a risk. 

Social workers are over-burdened with administrative tasks that contribute to burnout. AI tools could allow social workers to automatically record and transcribe home visits, eliminating laborious note-taking and allowing a firm focus on the family in the moment. 

AI, within its current capabilities, could also easily be trained to identify and redact confidential information. 

Even better, AI could be used to write a summary that includes the key information while omitting anything confidential so that care leavers are no longer presented with pages of redacted text that are practically impossible to make sense of. 

With tools such as generative AI, it is now possible to ask questions and receive a written answer, rather than relying on a search tool that finds pre-existing text. 

Care leavers could explore their case file in a more natural way, asking questions in plain English to find information rather than searching through countless pages manually. 

By analysing large amounts of data quickly, AI could help identify an effective way to deploy resources, estimate the likely impact of an intervention and help social workers to prioritise their work. 

Local authorities could use AI to help check policies to ensure they comply with legislation, standards and guidance. It could also review policies to check for any contradictions.

AI is not a panacea and will always need human intervention. Its application needs to be a collaborative effort, drawing together experts from across sectors and co-produced with citizens, to mitigate risks and improve outcomes for children and families. 

But by automating time-consuming and complex processes, social workers would be able to spend vital relationship-building time with children and families that is so central to social care practice.

Coram-i is the insight and innovation consultancy of the children’s charity Coram, see

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