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ContactPoint goes live despite security fears

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Analysis The Government has announced plans to push ahead with the next phase in launch of a controversial child protection database, despite ongoing concerns about the security of data held on the system.

The delayed ContactPoint system, which is due to include names and addresses on every child under 18 in England, will be accessed by frontline care workers in real-life trials for the first time from this Monday.

Security experts contacted by El Reg remain concerned that information housed on the database might leak out despite ministerial assurances on security provisions that will accompany the roll-out of the directory system.

From Monday onwards social workers, police, schools and health officials will have access to data held on the ContactPoint database. The start of frontline trials, announced in the House of Commons last week by Children's Secretary Ed Balls (Hansard extract below), follows repeated delays in the development of the system.

Since January, important progress has been made. Seventeen early adopter local authorities in the north west of England, along with leading national charities, Barnardo’s and KIDS, now have trained management teams in preparation for practitioners to start to use the system. At the same time, as part of the extensive ContactPoint security arrangements, local authorities have shielded the records of children who are potentially at greater risk if their whereabouts were to become known, to provide an additional layer of security, (for example, if a child is fleeing domestic violence or is under witness protection, or in some cases where children have been adopted). Approximately 52,000 records have now been shielded on ContactPoint.

Building on this work, we will continue to take an incremental and steady approach to delivery. We are now moving ahead with the second phase of delivery. From 18 May, and over a period of several weeks, ContactPoint early adopters will train around 800 practitioners to use ContactPoint. They have been hand-picked to ensure they reflect the broad range of professionals working for children’s services organisations who will use ContactPoint when the directory is fully rolled out. We will carefully monitor the activity of those practitioners considering what further improvements may be required in the light of their experience of using the system.

From June to August, we will train management teams in the other local authorities and national partners. This will allow them to prepare for deployment of ContactPoint more widely in due course.

Throughout this second phase, we will continue to evaluate the experience of early adopters. This will ensure that the deployment of ContactPoint continues to take account of the experience of new users in the next stages of delivery.

Creation of the multi-million pound database - which will hold information on an estimated 11m children in England in a form of online directory - was proposed in the wake of Victoria Climbié's killing by her abusive guardians in 2000. Police, social services and health agencies all noted signs of abuse in the run-up to her death, but each agency acted in isolation.

The database is designed to give social workers, police and hospital with common access to contact details on children and other professionals working with them, so that care professionals can more easily contact each other and exchange information. Case history files will not be housed on the system.

The database will include details such name, address, date of birth, gender, and contact details for parents or carers for each child in England. Contact details for the child’s school, family doctor and other careers working with the child will also be included within the same cross-reference entry.

ContactPoint will cost an estimated £224m to set up, followed by annual running costing of around £44m a year. Contact details on an estimated 52,000 at-risk children will be shielded.

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