Department for Education: Co-designing Care services of the future

Can digital technology help young people in care?


Funded through the Department for Education’s Spring Consortium, we formed a partnership with University of Kent, Affective State and University of Portsmouth to explore the potential use of technology to improve outcomes for young people in care.

Snook staff are trained specifically in youth engagement methods focused on protecting vulnerable people, and we led the user research and co-design elements of the project. Working directly with young people, social workers and foster carers we uncovered opportunities together, and continually developed prototypes utilising new and emerging technologies.


Building trust

Taking a co-design approach was crucial to ensure we not only built on the valuable lived experience of the young people, carers and social workers we were working with, but we had the connections that allowed us to explore sensitive subject matters in an ethical way.

We recruited co-design groups of young people, carers, and social workers. This can be challenging as we had to make sure the young people knew what our intentions were, so they trusted and worked with us. We brought together co-design groups to engage at 4 key stages of the project.

We developed bespoke tools and approaches to help the young people feel at ease. We ran workshops to understand young people’s experience of the care system and mapped their journeys, understanding the difficult moments along the way.

Developing support tools

We worked through the later stages of the project to co-develop content and frameworks for our products and services; prototyping and testing them with participants.

1.The suite of digital products – designed as engagement tools
We designed digital service prototypes to engage young people at what they identified as key moments and support their journey through the care system. Each product has been carefully developed to a particular ‘use case’ or need, to offer support during these key moments. Key moments such as moving from foster care to independent living, attending meetings with health care / social professionals and access to these professionals out of hours.

2. Secure digital platform
Security can be taken for granted, from seeking consent to use a picture, to the protection of personal information. It was vital that the entry point for the digital platform service be completely secure. We created the prototype for this part of the service, codeveloping a content framework directly with young people. The platform is designed to improve communication and information provision between professionals and young people.

3. A service framework
While the research was exploratory and open, with the aim of developing a suite of ideas, we were eager to propose ideas that were realistic and tangible. Developing a service framework we designed how the suite of engagement products and the digital platform could fit together and considered the service that would need to sit around these.

Impact

Valuing contribution

We worked with around 80 young people over the year-long project, ranging from 12 years old to early 20s in five separate design teams. Each team was supported by a social worker, other care staff and interpreters (for those who needed them).

The young people, as part of the design team, felt valued and their opinions influenced what was finally produced.

Fueling digital thinking

We have a lot of insight that can be tapped into for the future development of digital products and services in the social care sector which we are working to make open and accessible to all.


  • Having Westminster young people take a direct role in influencing how technology can support children in care, was both a meaningful and effective process.
    – Sarah Clarson, Co-ordinator For Children’s Participation and Independent Visitors Project
  • The staff were very skilled in how they engaged the young people, consultation sessions were enjoyable but also challenged them to think creatively which positively impacted on outcomes of this project.
    – Sarah Clarson, Co-ordinator For Children’s Participation and Independent Visitors Project

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Looking to get end users involved in designing what they need?

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