Child welfare remains a pressing challenge for governments around the world, and the statistics are heart-breaking. In the U.S. for instance, there are four million reports of child abuse each year, and the government spends $29 billion annually on services to support child welfare and prevent maltreatment.
Children typically become vulnerable due to complex issues in their families, including unemployment, domestic violence and financial stress. Some children manage to escape these damaging environments, but most remain trapped and enter a cycle of disadvantage. In many cases, problems persist and are passed down to the next generation.
Sadly, no single policy approach can solve child welfare. Some progress has been made by focusing on solutions that address the entire family rather than just the child, shifting the focus towards prevention and early intervention. Despite this, the number of children needing intensive support continues to grow, and we’re failing to break the cycle of generational disadvantage.
Change in welfare is typically driven by reform, with centralised policy that sets top-down rules to be carried out by communities and care providers. The problem? Such rigidity and disconnect from the front line mean it can’t adapt to the complex needs of vulnerable families. In response, some communities and governments have developed solutions focusing on the needs of children and families, a bottom-up approach. Yet too often, positive results are limited to isolated communities.
So how can we overcome the limitations of today’s approaches. We think a new methodology called 'collective smart design' can point the way. It's not a solution, but it is a new structured approach to problem-solving that combines processes, techniques, capabilities and technologies which, together, can help shift how child welfare systems think, work and interact. The result? Child welfare leaders can overcome barriers to innovation and enact major change.
At the core of collective smart design are three big capabilities critical for change: design, data and digital.
Design for life: New child welfare systems and models of care should be designed around family needs in order to move from reactive to proactive and even preventative services. Front-line teams should incorporate input from multiple stakeholders, including government, policymakers, families, communities, educators, data experts and technologists. The aim is that everyone works together towards a shared vision: improving outcomes for vulnerable children.
Gather all the right data: Collective smart design helps us create secure ways to gather and connect relevant data from across the ecosystem to give everyone a shared, accurate picture of child welfare, to improve decision-making and develop the deeper insights needed to deliver more personalised services.
Scale digital engagement: New services must reflect the digital world and be scalable for other communities and regions. Open, integrated platforms can enable the ecosystem of stakeholders involved in child welfare to interact in new ways, designing and managing services, collaborating on innovation and sharing knowledge. In addition, AI offers huge potential to augment service delivery and accelerate learning.
Collective smart design is a radically different approach to effecting change in child welfare, enabling creation of new value for everyone:
- Families and children receive personalised interventions to address issues and restore independence.
- Caseworkers spend more time with families and less time on paperwork thanks to digitisation and efficient working.
- Agencies gain greater visibility across the child welfare system and can make data-driven decisions.
- Governments reduce the burden of poor child outcomes on society, and transition more families off welfare and into healthy, productive lives.
Data, design and emerging digital capabilities are truly opening fast new opportunities for governments to provide citizen services, and reinvention of child welfare programs should be among the top priorities in bringing the new capabilities to bear.