Multi Agency Safeguarding Tracker (MAST)
Briefly describe the initiative/ project/service; please include your aims and objectives
Walsall Council is a large metropolitan borough council in the West Midlands consisting of a mix of urban, suburban and semi-rural communities. It covers 40 square miles. The vision of the Information Management team at Walsall Council is to change the view of data protection from being a barrier to being a positive enabler. They believe that the more compliant data processing is, the more robust the service delivery and capabilities will be.
The team’s vision is fourfold:
– Simplify data protection matters
– Align the main leading roles involved in data protection and confidentiality
– Create data sharing standards across partners, to ensure simple and secure information sharing
– Move data protection teams forward so everyone understands their duties and obligations
The vision to make data protection a positive enabler has been brought to life by the cutting-edge work the team has done to improve safeguarding.
The responsibility to safeguard vulnerable people lies with councils and a range of safeguarding partners. Too often vulnerability is identified too late.
Limited data sharing between organisations makes it hard to identify people who need support before they hit a crisis. It’s also hard to see if they are already known to those in the wider safeguarding community. While current national and local programmes for safeguarding are a good step in the right direction, they rely on other people sharing the right information at the right time. There are also concerns about relying on in-depth data.
We know that prevention is critical to improve safeguarding. We also know that data must be more effectively shared across agencies if we are to better protect vulnerable people and reduce the potential of people falling into the social care system. This is a big challenge.
To remedy this, Paul Withers, Data Protection Manager at Walsall Council, set about creating a digital system that would become the Multi Agency Safeguarding Tracker (MAST). MAST helps safeguarding professionals across different partners to identify vulnerable people when they are still at risk rather than already a concern. It does this with a minimal amount of demographic data. MAST combines datasets from;
– Walsall Council: Adult Social Care, Children’s Social Care, Public Health
– Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust
– West Midlands Police
– West Midlands Fire and Rescue
By allowing social workers to see if other safeguarding agencies are actively involved with a person or address MAST gives amore complete picture against which safeguarding decisions can be made. The project is one of three Social Care Digital Innovation Accelerator (SCDIA) 2020/21 projects and is run by Policy inPractice and CC2i for the Local Government Association (LGA), with match funding from NHS Digital.
What are the key achievements?
As a member of regional data protection networks, Paul Withers has brought together successful initiatives. He has created a collaboration library in Microsoft Teams for all of the region’s Data Protection leads. Here they share ideas, templates and suggestions to ensure all public bodies are addressing any concerns jointly, and using the network to ensure a joined up approach to their compliance activities. The idea of using data minimisation to resolve data sharing complexities came from previous conversations on data sharing with local police.
Building on this, the idea for MAST was put forward to the LGA’s Social Care Digital Innovation Accelerator which benefited from match-funding from NHS Digital. As MAST represented a priority challenge that all 20 plus local authorities faced, one to which a digital solution did not already exist, it was awarded the funding. The key safeguarding partners from around the region were brought together to work with public sector collaboration expertsCC2i, the LGA and NHS Digital. Data management, technical and development expertise is provided by Policy in Practice. Hundreds of hours of subject matter expertise from both information governance and safeguarding perspectives was critical to developing a tool to allow safe, daily, automatic data sharing between safeguarding partners in the West Midlands.
The idea was simple in that so much could be achieved with demographic information only, so long as everyone understood the potential outcomes and impact. From this, the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Tracker (MAST) was born. The tool works to support safeguarding practice and support those who are most vulnerable through informed decision-making. So far (Dec 22) MAST has achieved the following:
– Robust data governance agreements for safeguarding purposes developed and agreed by all partners
– Secure data transfer, data management, and information security processes from all partners
– Automated data matching and subsequent anonymisation across all records
– Over 300,000 records have been successfully brought into the system with significant results
– Half of Walsall Council’s children’s social care records and over a third of adult records match with police records alone
– MAST identified cases that had significantly escalated, with a massive impact on blue light services and the public purse,which were then progressed via a multi-agency, evidence-based approach
– Data matching results: 28 matches across 12 addresses over three months between the fire service and families known toChildren’s services. At least two of these matches, one with multiple incidents at the same address, were unknown toChildren’s services, justifying the project alone.
How Innovative is your initiative?
This initiative, which maps and links administrative datasets from different organisations that support the same household for safeguarding purposes, has not been done in the UK before. The responsibility to safeguard vulnerable people lies with councils and various safeguarding partners. Too often vulnerability is identified too late. Limited data sharing between organisations makes it hard to identify people who need support before they hit a crisis. It’s also hard to see if they are already known to those in the wider safeguarding community.
A publication by the UK Government in July 2018 stated: “Information sharing is essential for effective safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children and young people. It is a key factor identified in many serious case reviews (SCRs) where poor information sharing has resulted in missed opportunities to take action that keeps children and young people safe” (Source: Information Sharing: advice for practitioners providing safeguarding services to children, young people, parents and carers.) The Data Protection team at Walsall Council wanted to resolve this. They are passionate about getting data protection right and enabling the sharing of data between partners in a justified and moral way. The team strives to improve public service delivery, keeping in sight the requirements of the organisation as a whole, whilst never losing the focus on upholding the rights of all data subjects.
Wanting to innovate the service and the process of data sharing, Paul Withers was eager to apply his knowledge and insight. The Police, social services, Fire and Rescue and the NHS all hold demographic data such as name, date of birth, gender, address, date of the incident (or start of social work process) and safeguarding contact name. Whilst standard information-sharing practices need to be followed, this is not sensitive data that requires any further restrictions and requirements on data protection and security. The idea was to expand on what could happen if this information was actively shared (rather than being requested by partners), and made available 24/7 so that safeguarding professionals could have a current, clear picture of the safeguarding landscape in relation to a person or address.
MAST was therefore designed to give professionals a greater view of partner interventions and enables staff to identify whether early intervention or further details and/or actions are needed. The result of this ultimately being to support decision making around case closures, speed up lateral checks, and reduce the number of No Further Actions coming back into the system, all through evidence based practice. Ensuring everyone with access has the ability to share only what is required to achieve a change, MAST has brought together key partners to improve safeguarding and reduce resource pressures. The MAST team have recently put forward this data sharing initiative to expand and improve on this safeguarding process throughout the UK.
Data identification with each safeguarding partner was completed and information governance documents co-produced. This documentation is now available for re-use by other safeguarding partners nationwide. This includes a data sharing agreement, data processing agreement, safeguarding partnership memorandum of understanding, template data schema and contract and service level agreement. This will aid the expansion and improvement of this safeguarding process throughout the UK. To date no one else has combined administrative datasets in this way to improve the nation’s safeguarding. It’s a trailblazer project that will save organisations time, resources, money, and ultimately, lives. So far, the project has successfully delivered a reusable information governance framework and undertaken significant partner engagement.
What are the key learning points?
Walsall Council has played a leading role in the creation of the MAST platform. MAST combines datasets from Walsall Council: Adult Social Care, Children’s Social Care, Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust; West Midlands Police and West Midlands Fire and Rescue to allow social workers to see if other safeguarding agencies are actively involved with a person or address too. This information supports social workers’ professional judgement and makes it easier for them to have conversations with practitioners from other services. This means social workers have more information to better support vulnerable people which they can use to reduce the potential of them falling into the social care system at all or further. MAST creates a data-driven digital approach enabling information from multiple safeguarding bodies to be easily and securely shared, matched and anonymised.
By limiting access to the necessary information to only authorised parties, this approach sits squarely within the GDPR regulations and wider requirements as demanded by the Data Protection Act 2018.
For its setup, data identification with each safeguarding partner was completed and information governance documents co-produced. This documentation is now available for re-use by other safeguarding partners nationwide. The reusable document templates include the following:
– Data sharing agreement
– Data processing agreement
– Data protection impact assessment
– Safeguarding partnership memorandum of understanding
– Template data schema
– Service level agreement
MAST also has UK data governance templates, as well as templates specific to Wales to ensure compliance. These documents clearly comply with the conditions detailed in UK GDPR regulations. They allow for the information in MAST to be shared between the partner organisations that hold mandatory responsibility for safeguarding. The project was designed from the outset to be replicated by other local authorities nationwide. So far MAST has received attention from over 50 other councils, health and police organisations who are interested in its potential. As well as being replicable for other regions, MAST is also designed to allow for other safeguarding partners with relevant information to come on board, such as those in the education sector. Lastly, the May 2022 National Review into the deaths of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson stated:
“In Arthur and Star’s cases, we see three main information sharing issues: a lack of timely and appropriate information sharing; limited information seeking; and evidence not being pieced together and considered in the round.” MAST seeks to improve these very issues. The review named MAST as a ‘promising project’.
Feedback from safeguarding professionals
“It’s not replacing our professional judgement; it’s just helping us to know when our professional judgement needs to be applied.”
“We thought this would be another system you’d have to enter into – it’s great that it uses existing data from other systems.”
“We’ve been interested in ways of doing this better for ten years, it’s great that it’s finally happening.”
“We can see how useful this is going to be.”