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ContactPoint rollout grinds to a halt, again

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ContactPoint, the child protection database set up after the murder of Victoria Climbie, has been delayed for the third time.

The brakes were first put on the project after the loss of 25m records by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs which led to a general review of the government's shoddy data security practises.

It was scheduled to open to "early adopters" in autumn 2008. Then in August we were told it was being delayed again because of user interface problems. The system is supposed to give social workers, police and NHS staff access to files on children so they can see if they are in contact with other government departments.

It seems the latest delay is to do with the issue of shielding; keeping especially vulnerable children - believed to include children of MPs and celebrities - off the database.

In January the database was opened to 300 people for testing - two in each local authorities. But this testing has revealed that supposedly hidden entries are automatically duplicated by central data feeds - local councils are responsible for shielding entries. Automatic updating of the system has been halted as a result.

17 councils were supposed to start using the whole database this month, but this has been delayed because 51 councils have still to complete their phase one tasks, the Telegraph reports.

A spokesman for the Department of Children, Schools and Families said:

ContactPoint takes data from existing national sources. We have had a few reports of cases where updates from these sources have resulted in records not being matched as expected. These are being investigated...Meanwhile, we have paused the ongoing data update while we investigate. We will not restart it if there is risk of introducing unmatched records for children whose existing ContactPoint records have been shielded.

Local authorities are already shielding records where they judge that there is a risk to a child or family or the adoption placement. We have been made aware that in some instances identities might be linked. We are working with national data sources to resolve this issue.

About 55,000 children, including those in witness protection schemes or in hiding from abusive family members, will have their records blocked. Fears have been raised over this, as around a million people will have access to the database. The government claims a figure of 330,000 for "users" of the system.

Concerns have also been raised about police access and whether they will use the database strictly for child protection or to trawl for those they see as potential criminals.

The system is provided by CapGemini. Creating the database for children in England and Wales will cost £224m and maintaining it will cost £44m a year.

The Tories have promised to scrap the system if elected. ®

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