Using data to support troubled families

East Sussex County Council and its partners ran a very successful Troubled Families programme that attracted national attention from central government.

One of the issues we were keen to address in the programme’s second phase was how we could give a more comprehensive picture about the needs of families earlier to frontline workers, ideally at the point of referral.

At the time, staff were handling data manually, using Excel spreadsheets, which was time consuming, and they couldn’t deal with large volumes of data. We wanted to draw together the different bits of information held by us and a range of partners, including police and health services, to speed up the process of matching that data to individuals and families.


Digital Transformation

The Digital Transformation Programme was set up to help councils develop digital solutions to support their wider work on national programmes of transformation, including the integration of health and social care, troubled families, welfare reform and public health. The aim is to develop tools that can be reused by other councils and support wider public service transformation.

You can find out more at the LGA’s Digital Showcase conference in London on 22 November – see A full case study on East Sussex’s project will shortly be available at

For more information about the Digital Transformation Programme, please email

We recognised that this would help us better target valuable resources at those most in need, and to intervene earlier before families reached crisis point. It might also help us to identify and target families before a crisis, rather than waiting for a referral.

We had some experience of developing these kinds of predictive analytics because we had previously looked at mapping the risk indicators for those young people in danger of being not in employment, education or training (NEET). That work contributed to higher-than-average participation rates in education and training by 16 and 17-year-olds in East Sussex. But it was very time consuming, as it was done on a small scale without access to advanced data-matching computer programs.

We successfully applied for funding from the LGA’s Digital Transformation Programme (see right), to develop a data-matching tool and employ a part-time information analyst to carry out the research and maximise the tool’s use. East Sussex also carefully considered the data protection requirements of GDPR in relation to this work on matching data and developing predictive analytics. Our aim was to ensure we had all the necessary permissions to match data from a range of different sources.

None of these things run smoothly, of course. Staff changes, and a decision by the county council to change the system for making information about children available to staff, affected how the LGA-funded project was delivered. But it has delivered – in multiple ways – saving an estimated £584,762 as of April 2018.

One example is that the analysis of the data confirmed there was a substantial cohort of families who could be turned around more quickly than the Troubled Families’ average. This led us to establish a ‘short-term team’ focused on helping families facing lower-level issues and preventing those problems escalating – saving £6,090 per family in avoided costs compared with those dealt with by the main teams.

By using internal staff, we have also improved our skills, knowledge, and ability to carry out similar projects in the future – as well as saving around £45,000 in consultants’ fees.


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