AIM: Little is known about the working practices of community children's nurses and how they manage the complexities of working with children and young people with life-limiting, life-threatening and chronic ill-health conditions and their families. This action research project aimed to find ways of managing community children's nursing caseloads that would improve the efficiency, effectiveness and equity of services and inform negotiations with service commissioners.
METHODS: A data collection template comprising six input categories was adapted from the Cornwall Community Trust's health visitor weighting framework to reflect the complexity of need and the family focus of the service provided. Data were collected for one year by nurses in one integrated community children's nursing and clinical psychology service in the Southwest of England. Qualitative interviews were held with the nurses to further explore patterns identified in the input data.
RESULTS: From the documentary analysis and the interviews it was possible to identify a typical ratio of client numbers in each category which allowed the nurses to be proactive in meeting children's and families' assessed needs. The numbers of clients on caseloads fluctuated over time and varied between geographical caseload areas. The type of work carried out by individual nurses varied depending on the type of contract for their locale. However, by weighting the clients in each category it was possible to arrive at a means of meaningful comparison in terms of family centred nursing.
CONCLUSION: The nursing input framework supports monthly caseload monitoring by community children's nurses and informs reports to the service commissioners as part of activity monitoring data. The mechanism will be tested in comparable services in the UK to gauge its transferability.