30th May 2018

Can technology help the community?

Simon Jones, Managing Director, Library and Education Solutions at Civica

Despite government initiatives, the number of children at risk from neglect and abuse is rising each year. While child protection executives call on government agencies to intensify their investments in early intervention programmes[1], they should also look at innovative ways to deploy technology to protect Australia’s children and youth.

I recently volunteered for the Whitelion’s latest fundraising event known as the Bail Out. Whitelion supports the disadvantaged youth of Australia by providing mentoring programmes, education, and employment. During the Bail Out evening we were given an opportunity to find out more about the work that Whitelion does, and an insight into some of the heartbreaking stories of childhood abuse and neglect, and the impact that has on a person’s future life chances.

One story which we heard was that of a young woman that was abused as a child. The team at Whitelion told us that there was evidence of a problem at school, and social workers and other Government Departments were already involved. The young woman ended up running away from home and living on the streets of a major Australian city. Unfortunately, after 5 years living on the streets, she died from an overdose. This story touched me in a number of ways, most notably as a father of two teenage daughters – but also in my professional capacity as the leader of Civica’s education business.

Australian Education Departments have already taken the first step

Through my work with Australian Education Departments, I know that they are already using technology to support students at risk. Every State and Territory Government Department has created tools that can extract data from systems used by schools, and then aggregate this information inside a data warehouse. They have also implemented reporting and analytical tools which provide useful insights into the information at hand, and this information is shared with the teams responsible for the children educated in the system. However, as technology advances, we can do more, we can do it more quickly and we can reduce the cost of doing it.

What can be done?

We can now deliver systems that allow records to be updated through the lifespan of a student showcasing his/her journey and key milestones, while raising alerts when needed.

Our school management system, Civica Education Suite (CES) has been designed as a person-centric platform from the ground up. The design phase harnessed all of our experience in working with Australian State Government Education Departments and other Systemic Groups of customers over the last two decades. 

CES is a single instance, person-centric system developed for Australian schools regardless of their size. This means that our schools can create and maintain a ‘single person record’ for every student and parent within the education system. The record is created when the student first enrols at a school, and information is then collected and used by teachers as the relationship with the student and their family develops. Because it a single instance system, the record continues to grow when the student transfers to other schools – or in the case of carers, when siblings (or otherwise connected students) begin their education journey. Attached to each record are fields and flags/alerts which highlight where a student or the parent might be at risk, and this is visible to authorized employees using the system.

Should officers from other Government agencies such as social care or the police get involved to provide additional support for the individuals concerned, they can be given limited access to the system, or the data can be extracted from CES and exported into an external case management system.

Furthermore, single schools, or even an entire states/territories or other groups of schools can deploy our analytical tools to see multiple incidents which occurred over an extended period of time, and at different locations. Whilst each incident on its own might not be enough to warrant an intervention or escalation, there can be justifiable reasons for alert when you see them together. Because CES is deployed as an enterprise system covering all schools, these alerts can be triggered as soon as the data is entered and the preconfigured thresholds which has been set by our customer are crossed.

Fine-tuning systems for easy access and easy flow of information

Our aim with the CES is to enhance the processes and procedures that already exist within Australian Education by collecting rich information on the students and families within our communities. We include tools that provide an easy mechanism for teachers and school administrators to quickly enter data, tools which provide automated data checking to help ensure the validity of information recorded in the system as well as analytical and reporting tools to highlight which students and families need might need additional help.

I understand that technology does not fix the problem – it is the people who work with our children that do this. However, when we are dealing with hundreds of thousands of students – we can use technology to locate the needle in the haystack which in turn can help these professionals understand who needs help.

[1] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-01-23/children-at-risk-of-neglect-or-abuse-on-the-rise/9353174