New Zealand’s Ministry for Vulnerable Children is using an app to allow children in care to directly post feedback and complaints from smartphones and tablets. The Mind of My Own app, developed by a British company, helps vulnerable children to communicate problems they would be reluctant to express face-to-face, such as abuse or their own risky behaviour, by using prompts and a child-friendly interface. In a trial in summer 2017, the ministry saw a 123% increase in use of its feedback and complaints system.
Results & Impact
In New Zealand there are between 5,500 and 6,000 children in care at any one time, with a further 40,000-54,000 young people with some form of contact to the Ministry of Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki (MVCOT). MVCOT has conducted a trial of the Mind of My Own app with 20 social workers and the children whom they work with. The trial led to a 123% increase in children engaging with the feedback and complaints system, and in one case a girl revealed sensitive information she was reluctant to tell her social worker face-to-face via the app.
Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki, Mind of My Own
Children in New Zealand’s care system are given an app on their phones or tablets through which they are able to send feedback or complaints directly to their social workers, who are then able to respond directly to complaints. The interface uses prompts to guide the children and help them express themselves. The Mind of My Own (MOMO) software also allows the ministry to analyse the data they receive for patterns in the complaints, giving them an opportunity to better understand the children’s needs and tailor their responses to them. MVCOT will now trial the app in a number of different settings, such as residential centres and rural areas, and ultimately hopes to roll out the system to all of the children in care in New Zealand.
Children, young people
Cost & Value
The Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki received funding of US$8.4 million to completely overhaul New Zealand’s childcare recording systems.
The most difficult aspect of the project so far has been coordinating between New Zealand and the UK, where the MOMO team is based. The time difference limits the amount of time the ministry and MOMO are able to consult one another and make improvements to the app. In the future, the ministry are unclear of how people will engage with the app. While it has been tested with success, how it will fare in different environments is as of yet unclear, and will require further testing.
50 local children’s services in the UK have also used the MOMO app with the children under their care.
An app is helping vulnerable children in New Zealand share sensitive information directly with their social workers.
The app uses prompts to encourage children to communicate what they are uncomfortable to talk about in person, such as abuse or risky aspects of their own behaviour. In a three month trial of the app, communication between children and their social workers more than doubled.
New Zealand’s Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki (MVCOT) will use the Mind of My Own (MOMO) app as an alternative line of communication between children and their social workers. The app, developed by a British company, helps children to express sensitive or difficult information via messages that their social workers are then able to see and act upon. MVCOT are now combining a wider roll out of the app with a total overhaul of their IT system.
“As we increasingly know, children and young people can be quite comfortable communicating via social media or other technological forums,” said Angela Gray, the programme manager for MOMO at MVCOT. “This is just providing another pathway for children and young people to communicate with their social workers. It’s intended to supplement the existing skills and resources that our social workers already have in terms of their engagement with children and young people.”
MVCOT ran an initial trial of the app from April to June 2017. 20 social workers got the children and young people they worked with to use the app to register feedback and complaints directly to them. Over the course of the trial, the children increased their use of the feedback and complaints system by 123%, according to Gray.
“We’ve had a number of examples from the trial where children and young people were sharing concerns or raising issues with us that they had previously not felt comfortable discussing face to face with their social workers, including one example where a young woman had been engaged in some quite high risk behaviour,” said Gray.
“Social workers had tried to speak with her and engage with her in discussions but she hadn’t been willing to confirm or otherwise that she was engaged in these behaviours. So using the MOMO app she began to share this information with them and now we have a very strong safety plan in place to help her get out of this situation. I think she felt more comfortable sharing these quite difficult things via a technology medium than via a face-to-face conversation.”
MOMO was first developed in 2013 by a small British team using a grant from the Nominet trust. Within a year, three children’s services in the UK had signed up to use it; by 2016 MOMO was working with 50, and had won three awards from the Children and Young People Now magazine.
MVCOT will now trial the app in a number of different settings, such as residential facilities and rural communities, to make sure it works effectively throughout the care system. There are between 5,500 and 6,000 children in care in New Zealand at any given moment, and between 40,000 and 54,000 people who’ve had “some form of open intervention or contact with the ministry at any one time,” according to Gray.
In addition to the MOMO app, MVCOT is completely overhauling its complaints management system. The ministry was formed early in 2017 as part of a “whole of sector, child-centred approach” to services for children and young people, and in the Autumn of 2017 will begin procurement for a new IT system.
“Currently we have a complaints management system built in 2010. It’s no longer meeting our needs in terms of effectively supporting us to manage, track, and learn from the feedback and complaints that we receive,” said Gray. Describing the new system, she explained that it “has enhanced privacy settings, analytics capability, and it has a system that can support us to better manage the workflow, so that we can provide more effective and timely responses.”
Working with the British developers behind MOMO has raised a unique set of difficulties. “The biggest challenge to date to be honest to you has been speaking to someone on the other side of the world,” said Gray. MVCOT have been in constant contact with Mind of My Own to tweak the app following feedback from the children using it; the time difference between the UK and New Zealand has made scheduling meetings difficult, and has limited the amount of time the MOMO and MVCOT have to work together directly.
The project is still in its early stages, and, despite initial success, Gray and her colleagues still have to assess the effectiveness of the app in other care environments. Over the next few months MVCOT will monitor this, and continue to make improvements to the app and its reporting system.
(Picture Credit: Oranga Tamariki)