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Big Cyber is Watching
May 18, 2009 permalink
Britain is launching its universal database, dubbed ContactPoint, of children up to age 18. Initially it handles only the north west region, but will soon expand to the entire country. You can read more on wikipedia, ARCH, Action on Rights for Children and the UK government sites every child matters and Office of Public Sector Information. Subjective opinions are excluded from ContactPoint, but could come through mission-creep. The number of people using the database will be in the hundreds of thousands, too large for keeping secrets, so in future disputes with social services damaging information about the family will get into the press. Since there is no provision for mother, father or the child himself to use the database, they will be unable to correct errors or even know about them, and when the database contains exculpatory data, they will unable to make use of it. Shortly after reaching age of majority, information shifts to "archived", but with the technical requirement for regular backup copies, there is no way to destroy it. These archives will follow British citizens for the rest of their lives. In the USA, social services records have already been used to embarrass a man for political gain.
BBC NEWS, Published: 2009/05/18 10:48:04 GMT
Database of all children launched
A controversial database which holds the details of every child in England has become available to childcare professionals for the first time.
ContactPoint, a response to Lord Laming's report following the death of Victoria Climbie, is beginning its national roll-out in the north west.
But the system, costing £224m, has been delayed twice amid data security fears.
The government says it will enable more co-ordinated services for children and ensure none slips through the net.
It will hold the details of 11 million children and young people aged up to 18 years.
The delays were prompted by concerns over access to the database. In 2007, a report into the project by auditors Deloitte and Touche said it could never be totally secure.
Last summer ministers delayed the database, admitting there were some "issues" identified in testing.
It says 390,000 people will have access to the database, but will have gone through stringent security training.
The system will be available to workers in 17 local authorities in the north west of England, before eventually being rolled out across the rest of the country.
More than 51,000 children deemed vulnerable will have their identities and information shielded, the government says, after fears were raised that information about children's whereabouts could fall into the wrong hands.
- Name, address, date of birth, gender and contact details for parents or carers
- Each child also has a unique identifying number
- Details of the child's school and GP practice and for other practitioners or services working with the child
- Whether the practitioner is the lead professional for that child Source: DCSF
The government said the database was vital to prevent any child slipping through the net, and would enable professionals to see quickly and easily which other services and people were in contact with a child.
England's children's minister, Delyth Morgan, said: "Under current arrangements if a practitioner believes that a child is at risk or may need additional support, for example if they have a disability, they may have no way of knowing whether other services might already be in contact with that child.
"We estimate that ContactPoint, when fully operational, can save at least five million hours of professionals' time, freeing them up from trying to track down other practitioners and enabling them to spend more time on the child."
The Conservatives have called for the database to be scrapped.
But it has been welcomed by the chief executive of children's charity Barnardo's, Martin Narey, who said it "would make it easier to deliver better-co-ordinated services".
Addendum: The Conservative/Liberal coalition government is abolishing the ContactPoint database.
The end of a child protection revolution
A computer system that was meant to revolutionise the way in which professionals track vulnerable children is being switched off, quietly and without fanfare, later on Friday.
Called ContactPoint, it would eventually have contained the names and basic details of every one of the 11 million children living in England.
But the Conservatives had always believed the solution was disproportionate to the problem and pledged in its coalition agreement with the Liberal Democrats to scrap it.
Within two months of the switch-off all the data collected for the system is to be destroyed.
The Laming Inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbie had recommended that a national database of children should be set up to avoid another child being hurt in the same way.
Different hospitals and different local authorities had come in contact with the eight-year-old as she was moved around London, but no professional had a complete picture.
ContactPoint divided opinion from the outset. Civil liberties campaigners claimed it was an unwarranted intrusion into family life and serious concerns were also raised about the safety of so much information being held in one place, given the government's track record on keeping data safe.
On the other hand, many organisations working in the field of child protection felt that it could be an important tool in helping professionals find out who was working with a vulnerable child. They also felt it would improve the sharing of information.
After much delay, and increasing cost, the national roll-out of the system began in January 2009.
To date, some 15,000 users have accessed it, against the forecasted 330,000.
By the end of March this year, some £235m has been spent on the project.
But a report published by the Labour government said 75% of the professionals piloting the system had found it useful.
It quoted an attendance officer in one area who said he had been able to trace eight children who had been missing from education for more than a year.
With echoes of the Climbie case, a social worker also described a mother who had been going to different agencies using different names for her child.
ContactPoint helped them discover that there had been five different stories given for the same child.
Once they had that information they could protect that child properly.
After so much time and money has been put into setting up one system, the Association of Directors of Children's Services says it is concerned that the effort should not be wasted.
They also say focus must not be lost on the need for professionals to know who else is working with a vulnerable child.
Certainly time and again, reviews into child deaths have pointed to a lack of information-sharing between agencies.
The most recent was last week's serious case review into the starving to death of seven-year-old Khyra Ishaq in Birmingham.
The coalition government says it does recognise the problem that the system was meant to address.
It just wants a more proportionate approach focused solely on vulnerable children and used by front-line staff only.
It is exploring the possibility of a national signposting service.
Ideas will be considered by the Munro Review into child protection, but its full report is not due until next year.