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UK child database is 'not fit for purpose'

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The government is pressing ahead with its "Integrated Children's System" despite a review of four pilot projects which call into doubt the database's design and its benefits - if any - for care workers.

The ICS review was carried out by two academics from the University of York and nine researchers. They examined progress in two local authorities in England and two in Wales.

The review of the database - which will include entries on any child with serious illness, disability or contact with social services - only came to light as the result of a Freedom of Information request by Action on Rights for Children.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families published a bowdlerised version of the research, and dismissed it because "the research does not provide a sound basis on which to judge the potential value of the ICS".

Prime Minister Gordon Brown took a similar view of the disposable nature of advice he doesn't agree with when he apparently rejected findings from Home Office scientists on the reclassification of cannabis last week.

The executive summary of the evaluation, seen by The Register and obtained by Action on Rights for Children, said: "Our evaluation raises serious reservations about the design and use of ICS in its present form and we believe that the ICS has yet to demonstrate the degree to which and how it is fit for purpose... Our evaluation reflects the profound problems all of our sites experienced in using the ICS."

The reports authors describe the system as too prescriptive and recommend a review of the design of "exemplars" - database records - which are currently split into sections making an overview of an individuals case difficult. Fitting case studies on disabled children onto the existing system is especially difficult.

Researchers called for a quicker move to secure email records instead of using dual paper/electronic systems in parallel. Finally, they suggest the Department for Children, Schools and Families stop any extension of ICS until its problems are addressed.

On the IT front other questions need to be solved - choosing between in-house and external provision, dealing with training and identifying transition issues. Social workers complained that the system took longer to fill in than the system it replaced meaning workers spent less time with at-risk children.

A DCSF spokesperson said: “ICS will help to ensure improved outcomes for children. That is why we are committed to seeing it implemented in all local authorities as soon as possible. Constructive feedback from local authorities and others – as captured by recent published research into ICS - is helping us to do that.”

Terri Dowty, director at Action on Rights for Children which made the Freedom of Information request, said: "ICS has got to work well. It will contain details of the needs of children with chronic illnesses and disabilities and, crucially, the care plans for those at risk of harm. If experienced social workers are saying that there are problems, these must be addressed before the system goes live. It is simply not good enough to ignore their concerns."

Community Care has more here and the ARCH blog is here. ®

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