ContactPoint database of 11million children’s details to go ahead despite security fears
Quote:Ministers are pressing ahead with the introduction of ContactPoint to every local authority in the country after claiming that a pilot project has proved a success.
They say the long-delayed £224 project will make England’s 11million young people safer by providing a single register that can be used by all child protection professionals.
But there are concerns that the sensitive data could fall into the wrong hands, after an official review concluded that it could never be completely secure.
It is also feared that police or council workers will use it to search for evidence of crime or pry into family arrangements, rather than safeguarding children.
The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are both committed to scrapping ContactPoint, should they win the general election.
Tim Loughton, the shadow children's minister, said: "We are determined to protect vulnerable children from abuse, but ContactPoint would put them risk.
"Every IT system the Government touches turns into a disaster – we cannot afford to let them mismanage the personal details of 11 million children. It would be irresponsible to implement something that is such a danger to our children."
David Laws, the Lib Dems’ children's spokesman, added: “When it comes to child protection, professionals need to be talking to one another and not relying on simply putting data into a massive database.
“The Government has shown it can’t be trusted with sensitive data. Parents have every right to demand that their children’s personal details are not put at risk.”
ContactPoint was set up as a response to the Victoria Climbié tragedy, as a way to ensure vulnerable children do not slip through the net between different authorities and professionals.
The computerised database contains a record for each of the 11m under-18s living in England, containing their name, address, gender, date of birth and a unique identifying number.
It also holds information on their parents, their nursery or school, their GP and whether they have a social worker, health visitor or probation officer assigned to them. If the young person consents, it will also give details of sexual health or drug abuse counsellors.
The directory should have come into force more than a year ago but was delayed after a security review found the risk of a data breach could never be eliminated.
ContactPoint was put on hold again last summer because of “glitches” and the input of data was suspended completely in March when new loopholes were discovered.
Staff at all 150 councils had been looking for vulnerable children – such as the offspring of high-profile parents or those fleeing abuse - whose details needed to be “shielded”.
But the council officers discovered that adopted children were listed on the database both by their original and adopted surnames, leaving them at greater risk of being tracked down, while unprotected duplicate files were also being generated.
Now, however, the work of the 20 councils and charities involved in the “early adopter phase” has been deemed a success and ministers have announced that the project will be taken up nationally. An estimated 390,000 social workers, teachers, police officers and health care workers will be able to access the data once they have been trained and all the records entered into the system.
Ed Balls, the Children’s Secretary, said: “It is excellent news that frontline practitioners from all over England can start to use ContactPoint to quickly and easily see who else is working with a child.
“No system can alone guarantee that all children will be safe, but we know from the support we have had from across the children’s workforce that ContactPoint is the right system to make a real difference for professionals and the children in their care.”
Details of the pilot project published on Friday show that ContactPoint is not just being used to bring child care workers together, but to track down errant youths following tip-offs.
A deputy head was said to have tracked down eight pupils who had missed school for a year using ContactPoint.
One user told the Government: “A member of the public contacted us to say that a child had moved into her street several months ago, was clearly of school age and clearly didn’t attend school.” ContactPoint was used to find the child’s previous school.
A nurse said: “A child came into A&E [who] lied about his address as he had run away from home. I went onto ContactPoint and was able to find his correct contact details.”
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