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Empowering Social Workers, Transforming Care: North Yorkshire Council Optimises with AI Proof-of-Concept

North Yorkshire Council   .   Local Authorities and Regional Government

Proof-of-concept AI, powered by Azure AI services. 

  • Overview

  • Problem

  • Solution

  • Key Benefits

  • Conclusion

  • Project stats


North Yorkshire Council, formed in April 2023, is the largest local authority in England by geographical area. They serve a diverse population across the stunning landscapes of North Yorkshire. Their mission extends beyond infrastructure and services, with a strong focus on the well-being of future generations. 

A Commitment to Children and Families 

This commitment is evident in the work of their Children and Families department. The department is dedicated to safeguarding children in need, supporting families to keep children at home or cared for within their communities whenever possible, and providing services for children in care and those leaving the care system.

They offer a comprehensive range of services, including: 

  • Early help to support families and offer a range of interventions
  • Safeguarding children
  • Support and intervention for vulnerable children
  • Assistance for children with special education needs
  • Support for young people leaving care

While Social Workers have a wealth of important information available to them, they are ‘time poor’ and lack the right tools to effectively find the key pieces of information they need. This creates a barrier and impacts their ability to spend crucial time supporting children and families. 

Leveraging expertise from Simpson Associates, North Yorkshire Council embarked on a mission to reimagine social work with a little help from AI with the aim of improving social workers’ access to key pieces of information and helping social workers spend much more of their time directly with children, young people and their families. 


Social workers in North Yorkshire, like their counterparts across the UK, faced a significant challenge: information overload. Nationally, up to 80% of Social Workers working time is spent at their computer, much of this is trying to find key pieces of information within cumbersome case management systems.  This hindered their ability to dedicate time for the crucial face-to-face interactions that are essential for building trust and providing effective support to children and families. 

Furthermore, valuable data within case notes, reports, and peripheral information remained largely untapped. This included printed and handwritten forms, PDFs, and images – a treasure trove of insights potentially impacting child safety and well-being. Existing systems lacked the capability to analyse this unstructured data intelligently and identify hidden connections. 

This situation echoes broader concerns within the social work field. Landmark reviews have previously raised questions about technology’s role, highlighting instances where it hindered, rather than helped, social workers.  

“Many social workers who took part in the online conversation, held by Community Care for the review, reported that their locally procured computer systems were substantial obstacles to good practice”  

The independent review of children’s social care, 2022; 2022c  

North Yorkshire Council knew they needed a solution that transformed technology from a burden into an empowering tool. 

“In our visits to local authorities and workforce engagement, practitioners frequently stated that clunky information technology (IT) systems meant that sharing information was extremely time consuming and often involved duplicated processes of submitting forms, or having to phone other professionals to find out information”  

The Munro Review of Child Protection 2011  


North Yorkshire Council, in partnership with Simpson Associates, developed a groundbreaking AI tool powered by Azure AI services. This advanced insight engine unlocks valuable data trapped within children’s social care systems. 

Beyond standard data, the AI tackles PDFs, handwritten notes, and even forgotten files tucked away in documents. Using cutting-edge AI, it uncovers hidden connections in this vast information repository These insights are then translated into clear, visual representations known as auto-generated ecomaps, providing social workers with a holistic view of a child’s network. 

It achieves this through a sophisticated blend of the following: 

Enhanced Search Functionality

This tool enables efficient searching of both structured and previously unsearchable unstructured data. 

Natural Language Processing (NLP) with Azure AI:

The tool utilises NLP capabilities to sift through vast amounts of unstructured data, including documents and images. 

Entity Recognition

It can recognise and extract key information like names, dates, and locations within the data. 

Document Intelligence

This allows the tool to understand the overall context and meaning within documents. 

Seamless Integration

All these functionalities are seamlessly integrated with Azure SQL Data Factory, ensuring secure and efficient data management. 

Auto-generated Ecomaps

These visual representations of a child’s social network provide insights into family dynamics and support systems from the case management system, providing a valuable and really visual insight for social workers. 

North Yorkshire Council and Simpson Associates prioritised responsible and ethical AI development throughout the project. This commitment is reflected in North Yorkshire Council’s decision to conduct an AI Ethics Impact Assessment. This assessment ensures the tool is used ethically, transparently, and in a way that safeguards children’s well-being. 

“Social workers are passionate about their jobs, but as many would tell you, spending too much time staring at a screen takes away from that passion. But we know that Technology can empower them to be more efficient, allowing them to focus on what truly matters – building relationships and making a real difference in children’s lives. 

Mel Hutchinson
Assistant Director Children and Young People’s Service, at North Yorkshire Council, emphasises the human cost

Key Benefits

The new AI tool delivers significant benefits beyond just improved search and ecomaps. Here’s how it empowers social workers and improves child welfare. 

Empowering Social Workers: 

  • Reduced time spent searching for information: The tool significantly cuts down the time social workers spend looking for information. Imagine a task like finding a safety plan going from 180-200 seconds to just 20 seconds! This translates to a potential cost saving of over 94% for this specific task, freeing up valuable time for direct work with children and families. 
  • Reduced administrative burden: By automating some repetitive tasks, the tool lightens the administrative load on social workers, allowing them to focus on more strategic and impactful work. 

Mid-Term Benefits: 

  • Improved child and family outcomes: The tool helps social workers gain a better understanding of children’s social networks and families, potentially leading to improved outcomes for children and families. 
  • Increased support networks: By providing a clearer picture of a child’s network, the tool can help identify people who already know, love or care about a child. Social workers can work with, and empower these networks to help keep children safe but can also talk to these networks if a child needs someone to care for them. 

Long-Term Potential: 

  • Modernisation of case management: The tool has the potential to modernise how social workers interact with data. It also has the potential for social work as a profession to reimagine case management and case management systems. 
  • Wider adoption of technology-enabled social care: The success of this project could pave the way for wider adoption of technology-enabled solutions in social care. 
  • Cost-Effective: North Yorkshire Council’s AI solution is affordable to implement and maintain, freeing up valuable resources. By automating repetitive administrative tasks typically handled by Social Workers (a costly resource), the solution can generate significant cost savings for the council. 
  • Dissemination to other areas: The tool has the potential to be adapted for use in other areas of the council, such as Adult Social Care, and in other local authorities and organisations. The tool isn’t reliant on a specific correlation of source systems and as such is easily replicable in other environments. 
  • Evidence-based approach to data retrieval burden: This project provides the first granular level analysis of social worker time spent on data retrieval tasks, differentiating between productive and unproductive activities. This data can be used to inform further efficiency improvements. 

Building a Brighter Future for Children: Beyond North Yorkshire 

These initial successes are just the beginning. North Yorkshire Council is committed to leveraging AI’s transformative power to revolutionise social care delivery across the region. 

North Yorkshire’s passion and their vision extends beyond their borders. They’re actively sharing their expertise and learnings, paving the way for other children’s social care departments across the UK to adopt similar solutions. This collaborative approach holds immense potential to improve the lives of countless children and families throughout the nation. 

“This is a game-changer,” says Mel Hutchinson, Assistant Director Children and Young People’s Service, at North Yorkshire Council, “The time saved by social workers allows them to focus on what truly matters – building relationships and making a real difference in children’s lives.”


This North Yorkshire Council case study serves as a powerful testament to the transformative potential of AI and data-driven approaches within social care. The successful collaboration with Simpson Associates not only empowered social workers through increased efficiency, but also unlocked significant promise for improved child and family outcomes across North Yorkshire. 

But the impact transcends regional boundaries. North Yorkshire Council, a true champion for children’s well-being, is actively sharing their expertise and learnings. This collaborative spirit paves the way for other children’s social care departments across the UK to adopt similar solutions. By embracing innovation and knowledge sharing, we can unlock a future where countless children and families nationwide benefit from a more efficient and effective social care system. 

“Simpson Associates’ technical expertise, particularly their deep understanding of data, has been invaluable. They didn’t just take our initial idea and run with it. They challenged us with insightful questions like ‘Have you considered this?’ and ‘What about this potential consequence?'” 

“This back-and-forth was incredibly helpful. It’s easy to get tunnel vision when you have an idea, focusing solely on the desired outcome. Simpson Associates’ expertise forced us to consider alternative approaches and potential roadblocks we hadn’t foreseen. Ultimately, their guidance led us to a better solution (Plan B) that addressed the core challenge effectively.” 

Jonny Hoyle Development Lead North Yorkshire Council 

Project stats 

  • 94% – a potential cost saving of over 94% for tasks. 
  • 20 seconds – tasks like finding a safety plan going from 180 to 20 seconds. 
  • Up to 80%  – of social workers time  across the UK is spent at their computers. 

Project stats

  • 94% A potential cost saving of over 94% for tasks.  
  • 20 Tasks like finding a safety plan going from 180 to 20 seconds.
  • *80% Of social workers time across the UK is spent at their computers. 

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