COMPUTER systems are being used in Dorset to identify families likely to need help and support.

Three quarters of schools in the county are now said to be using the system which scores children on a range of risk factors.

The tool used information from a range of agencies and can result in referrals to the social services-run Family Partnership Zones. These were set up in the county in September 2016 as a replacement for the previous Early Intervention teams.

Under the system Family Partnership workers collaborate with other professionals to offer packages of early support and assistance.

“We use data to proactively identify those most likely to need help, in order to reduce the cost of expensive, late intervention,” said interim head of social services Nick Jarman in a review report.

He admits that some professionals are still unaware of the service, or reluctant to use it: “ We have firm foundations however, we are aware that some partners need to have the message reinforced and we accept this as part of shifting culture.”

In a report to the county's health and wellbeing board on June 27th he says that cuts to budgets have been one of the drivers for changing the way professionals work with children and families:

“The financial reality is such that since 2010 the opportunities to invest in early intervention have reduced yet the need to manage demand has increased. It was agreed to have a whole system approach to prevention and early intervention to break the culture of referral to the local authority.”

He claims that the system has reduced the amount of late interventions with fewer children on Child Protection Plans, fewer being taken into care, fewer school exclusions and a 50 per cent reduction in the re-referral rate.

Across the county there are now 277 professionals in school with access to the system, compared to 121 in September 2017. A total of 585 children are recorded as being 'actively supported' via the system.

Mr Jarman says further work needs to be done to operate efficiently across services: “we want to ensure there is no duplication of effort but that services work together to provide the right support at the right time.”

He acknowledges that further staff training is needed in some areas and that more needs to be done to ensure that everyone understands the key principles for early help work and their role within it.

The interim director of social services also says there is also scope to increase the number of claims for Dorset Families Matter support which is funded by the Government's Troubled Families programme and can offer support, courses and training.