Child protection database to be switched off

Victoria Climbie Victoria died from abuse and neglect in February 2000

A £235m government database containing the records of England's 11 million children has been switched off.

ContactPoint was established in the wake of the Victoria Climbie child abuse case to aid child protection.

The report into her death highlighted the need to improve the exchange of information between different agencies working with vulnerable children.

The government argued the system was disproportionate to the problem, so is looking at developing other solutions.

Within two months of the switch-off all the data collected for the system is to be destroyed, although the information will still remain in the social services, education and health departments it had been gathered from.

But there have been concerns that there is nothing collating key information centrally in one place.

The system, which has been running since January last year, was always controversial and was set to cost a further £41m a year.

After successive delays, it was rolled out to only 15,000 users, out of the initial target of 330,000.

The system was used by doctors, social workers, schools, charities and other individuals involved in the protection of children.

Many said it was useful in tracking children and discovering the truth about the way they are cared for.

Start Quote

Experience shows the potential value of a quick and reliable means of discovering whether another professional has worked with such a child”

End Quote Tim Loughton Children's Minister

But civil liberties groups criticised it as intrusive and disproportionate.

'Not the answer'

They were concerned about keeping information on all of England's children in one place and feared that it was not secure.

In July, Children's Minister Tim Loughton confirmed that the government was scrapping the scheme.

He said he recognised the problem that the previous administration was trying to solve when it established ContactPoint.

"Front line practitioners need to be able to provide support for our most vulnerable children when they move across local authority boundaries or access services in more than one area," he said.

"Experience shows the potential value of a quick and reliable means of discovering whether another professional has worked with such a child.

"It is worth considering a national approach to that issue."

New service

However, he was clear that ContactPoint was not the answer.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today Programme: "We need a better child protection system in this country, but at the end of the day it's not a computer system that will save vulnerable children.

"It's the performance of the professionals at the sharp end, who need to be properly trained and resourced."

Instead, he is looking at establishing a new national service which would focus on helping practitioners find out whether another practitioner is working, or has worked, in another authority area with a child.

Decommissioning of the information contained on the database began at noon on Friday.

The shadow children's minister, Delyth Morgan, said the decision to close down the database was "very short-sighted".

"The Government appears to be scrapping ContactPoint without putting any appropriate safeguards in its place and without giving any thought to the consequences," she said.

"Scrapping it now won't save a great deal of money as the investment in set up has already been made and the government has confirmed that they have made no assessment of the social worker and other professionals' staff hours Contactpoint saves, which will now be lost," she added.

Here are a selection of your comments

Why are we surprised? Every child matters? Hardly. From personal experience, what actually matters is cost and protecting the reputation of child protection itself, rather than the children those involved in child protection should protect.

Anne, Hampshire

It is indeed correct to scrap ContactPoint. It contained far too much information about EVERY child, whether at risk or not, without any reference to the parents/legal guardians or, as the child grew older, their own wishes as to what was revealed and to whom. In other words, it completely ignored all the rights of a 'data subject' as enshrined in the Data Protection Act 1998. If the government flouts the law so blatantly, why should any one else obey it?

Megan, Cheshire

This is a disgrace. David Cameron, in my view, will be directly responsible for any child who is abused in whatever form as a result of scrapping this system. How long before another Victoria Climbie? Well, with the cut backs to child social care, expect more and more and no doubt it will be local authorities who take the blame. This government is a disgrace.

Simon, Doncaster

I work with large data sets professionally (I am a data architect working with large companies). ContactPoint was always going to fail, either disastrously through its own failings, or through an eventually inevitable political decision. The experience of data management within public and private organisations is that almost any data set like this will eventually end up on a laptop or a memory stick which then gets lost, and that users need to be carefully trained and monitored to ensure appropriate use. That was never going to happen here, with 300,000 users in a number of organisations, roles and lines of business, spread across the country.

Dr Robert Daniels-Dwyer, Oxford

It is absolutely right to scrap this database. There is good reason to keep records on those children in contact with social services, but there never can be reason to make a record for every child.

Ian , Dorking

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