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DCSF reins in ContactPoint scope for police and A&E staff

Frontline access frozen by political fears

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The Department for Children, Schools and Families is resisting broadening access to the ContactPoint database for police officers and A&E staff, two groups most people would consider to be the frontline of spotting child abuse.

Staff from the department admitted that this was for politcal expediency rather that to prevent overly wide access to the controversial database.

ACPO raised concerns at a meeting of the Information Sharing Advisory Group in August that "children will slip through the net" unless police had broad access to the system. The meeting also heard how the ContactPoint Database will not be made available to NHS staff working in A&E departments.

A representative for the Department for Children, Schools and Families suggested at the meeting that using the ContactPoint system to check on every child was likely to be unnecessary.

This is in spite of the fact that the DCSF has repeatedly argued that total inclusiveness is absolutely necessary to improve detection of child abuse. It also undermines ministerial contentions that ContactPoint will help to avoid a repeat of the Victoria Climbié case, which was characterised by the child being brought at different times to different casualty departments.

The DCSF went on to resist pressure from an ACPO representative for greater availability to serving Police Officers on what look suspiciously like political grounds.

Responding to Police concerns that access to ContactPoint was too restricted, the DCSF observed that "the department would find it hard to go back to Parliament to say that 200,000 police officers would now like access".

It was at this point that the ACPO spokesperson expressed their concern that children might slip through the net and wonít be safeguarded. The DCSF response was: "You could not guarantee this anyway".

At the same meeting, a representative from the Office of the Information Commissioner raised the issue of how ContactPoint could be made available in a busy A&E department without compromising security.

A member of the Barts and London Trust questioned how checking on children in such circumstances could be possible. Various other committee members suggested ways in which wider access in A&E could either help support detection of issues of child abuse or help improve the use of resources.

However, the DCSF made it clear that agreement had been reached with the Department of Health for A&E visits to be recorded on the NHS System and that A&E visits tended to be for minor concerns anyway.

Responding to the above revelations, Maria Miller MP, Conservative spokesperson on this issue, said: "The government has a poor record when it comes to setting up and managing large databases and is unable to give an undertaking that highly sensitive data about children will be 100 per cent safe.

"The welfare of children has to be our paramount consideration and that is why we would scrap Contact Point and ensure safer collection of data at the local level with a focus on protecting the most vulnerable children."

This debate would suggest that the inevitable cracks are finally begining to appear in the ContactPoint project. The logic of ContactPoint - and the original justification for it - suggests that it should be as widely accessible as possible

However, public concerns over government handling of data mean that it is no longer acceptable to give it the degree of access it needs. Instead, each category of user is likely to have to feed their requests through local gatekeepers.

This will make it less effective - and also impact on the cost savings the government claimed ContactPoint would bring about. ®

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