Friday, 17 July 2009

Child protection or dis-integrating muddle (DIM)?

The ContactPoint database was planned following the Laming report into the murder of Victoria Climbié. 11 million children in England are to be placed on the database, each with his or her 'unique identifying number' as well as quite a lot of personal information. The Department of Children Schools & Families (DCSF) estimates that 390,000 people will ultimately have access to the database (others estimate this could be up to a million.) The records will be updated until children turn 18 then kept in an archive for 6 years before being destroyed. Those in care or with learning difficulties will remain on the live system until they turn 25. It will be obvious which children have criminal records.

The data will come from a variety of sources such as: the schools census, NHS Personal demographics service, the General register Office and, where possible will be automatically updated. (Surely not the data sharing that you thought was banned when clause 152 was deleted from the Justice and Coroners Bill?)

A Common Assessment Framework (CAF) is made for children with additional needs. It is, according to the DCSF, a simple process for a holistic assessment of children's needs and strengths. If you look here, you will see that it has involved many years of training, workshops and reports and is an extremely detailed record. Up to 50% of children evidently need some extra support at some point, that's 5,500,000 CAF reports! In addition there are the children who are 'at risk'. They have further specialist assessments and are placed on the Integrated Children's System (ICS). Hence an authorised user can go to ContactPoint and indirectly link to the CAF and ICS.

If you have followed me so far we now come to the latest news and this is the result of the Baby P inquiry. See here.

Local Authorities had to comply with the ICS system in order to avoid funding cuts but have now been told in a letter from Baroness Morgan,the children's minister, that she was:

"making it clear that local authorities will not be required to comply with the published specifications for ICS in order to receive capital funding ......and that.....ICT systems which support children's care should be locally owned and implemented within a simplified national framework".
But despite telling officials they could abandon the Government model, the children's minister denied that ICS was effectively being scrapped!

The ICS system has been described by staff as "an unworkable monster", generated stacks of paperwork 6ins thick for every child, had no way of tracking the siblings of abused children, and absorbed up to 80 per cent of social workers' time.

Staff at Kensington and Chelsea council, which had its funding cut for refusing to implement ICS in 2005, said they were being "inundated" with requests from other councils wanting to buy the alternative system they have built. (This is the same council that urged parents to request 'shielding' from ContactPoint.)

So, is the 'simplified national database' ContactPoint? If the idea was for a national system defining a 'continuum of need' then will ContactPoint still be required? And what of the CAF?

It is very confusing. In addition the Lib Dems and the Conservatives say they would scrap ContactPoint.

All this has echoes of the Dangerous Dogs' legislation.

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