Welsh charity Llamau uses Housing Insight’s technology to help it reduce homelessness among young people and vulnerable women.
A person may come to us during the night in an emergency and say, “I need help.” They may have found the courage to walk away from a situation of domestic abuse and they urgently need to find somewhere safe for themselves and their children.
Our support workers start putting actions into place immediately, responding to the situation while using Housing Insight’s PanConnect app to log information on their tablet or mobile phone.
Obviously, completing forms is not the highest priority in a crisis for the person who needs support, but having this technology in the background enables us to share information in real time with other team members. Then, when support workers log in at the start of the day, they can see an immediate update on what has been happening overnight – the handover is instantaneous.
Before we used PanConnect, support workers would have had to return to the office to retrieve the relevant paper file, taking them away from the very people who needed their support and adding an extra layer of processing as well.
Similarly, if a vulnerable person already known to us needs our services at 4am, the support worker can log in and immediately see exactly what their situation is.
It’s all about people
Housing Insight understands our focus on caring for people. It recognises that our skillset lies in supporting people, not in software or technology. Its developers are amazing at listening to our needs and hearing our struggles with data, and then working with us to find effective solutions.
For example, we wanted to improve our process for ‘quick contacts’, when people come in for one-off support that is needed ‘right now’. We were using pen, paper and a Microsoft Access database to take notes so we sat down with our Housing Insight project manager and the developers and said, “This is what happens – can you help us record that?” and they did.
I speak with Coral, our Housing Insight project manager, every week. She is great at understanding what we need, accepts the issues we have with workloads and appreciates that our own reports and deadlines must come first.
Stories of change
PanConnect enables us to translate the real-life, often traumatic experiences of the people we support into the reports required by our funders and commissioners. It facilitates communications between team members, translating them into goals and outcomes that promote the empowerment and independence of the people we work with. We can see in real time what’s happening across our different projects and services, what’s going well, what needs improvement and what difference we’re making.
There is great value in our ability to extract real-time data from the system so we can see exactly what is happening on any given day, in any area. I can then feed all of this into our service planning; it allows us to demonstrate the positive impact we’re making and can be used to support new funding bids and services.
Empowering our staff
Training staff on PanConnect has been a revelation. We have support workers who’ve been with us for anything from 15 days to 15 years, and we thought that those who had been using paper for years might resist the shift to an electronic system, but there were more ‘wows’ from this group than any other. They felt it changed their ways of working for the better; no more asking people again and again to repeat their name, date of birth and National Insurance number for multiple paper forms.
The repetition of name, DoB and NI number might sound trivial, but this is important when we are working with people who come into our services while experiencing difficult times. They need a seamless, joined-up approach from our services while they might also have to navigate systems and processes in other organisations, filling out numerous forms to access, for example, healthcare and training. Our support workers can now focus their attentions on the individuals they are supporting, after asking only once for someone’s key details.
We recognise that our support workers’ priority skills must be people and delivering support, not necessarily IT or software systems, so we’ve taken our time to train the organisation, region by region. Although recording support has proved very straightforward and easy to learn, there’s definitely been a transition period where we have all learnt lessons. To that end, we have been very deliberate about building a routine so that people can reinforce their learning over time.
Making it personal
Recording details can feel like a very official process for the person being supported. We know that telling their story again and again to lots of different people can be difficult for them, which is why we have reserved part of PanConnect so that people can write their own biography on the system. They choose what to write; it might be as simple as telling us how much they love their pet or it might provide an opportunity for them to share difficult information that they would prefer not to verbalise.
Our own journey
We originally began working with Housing Insight in 2017. At the time, like lots of small charities, we were using paper-based records but our growth meant that paper files were no longer fit for purpose. We had tried an electronic case study management system before but it didn’t suit our needs because we’re very much a face-to-face, person-centred service with real people and real situations. We would never say to someone in crisis, “Hang on, the computer’s just lagging a bit,” and nor did we want the ongoing barrier of a pen and paper in front of us.
PanConnect showed us that technology doesn’t need to be limiting. We started with the bare bones of a system and began customising it to fit our processes, the questions we ask and the forms we use.
We went live in 2018, gradually migrating all our files until we had a complete system by 2019, and when the pandemic happened in 2020, we felt like the luckiest organisation ever to have an electronic system! Our care would never have stopped but, thanks to PanConnect, our monitoring, data collection and positive outcomes didn’t stop either. We distributed tablets to our support workers, who could also access the system on their phones. It was our saving grace.
Software always comes second
With the variety of services we provide, this could never be a one-size-fits-all system. Housing Insight has been very responsive to this. It understands that we can’t change our services to fit the software, and Housing Insight listens and is willing to learn. We are working together to develop a system that reflects what we need as an organisation, and we are as excited about the future potential of the system as we were from the very start.
Sue Gershenson is the evaluation and quality assurance manager at Llamau.