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The Department for Education (DfE) has said it will temporarily maintain the controversial children's database but scale back its use.

Tom Jeffery, director general of the department, has sent out a letter to directors of children's services in England telling them that ContactPoint will remain in use but that its operations will be scaled down.

Both of the coalition government parties pledged to abolish the database before the general election, claiming that it posed a threat to the privacy of children and their families. It was developed by the previous government as a child protection measure and went live in the second half of 2009.

Jeffery refers to this commitment in his letter, but says the government recognises the big investment made on the system – estimated at £227m over five years – and wants to make appropriate use of it where practicable. It has decided to maintain ContactPoint until a further decision has been made on its replacement.

During the interim period the basic child records will be maintained with a feed of birth and death data from the General Register Office, along with updates from the Department for Work and Pensions, NHS Connecting for Health and the DfE's School Census. The department will keep up its support at a scaled down level.

It has told local authorities not to add any new data sources, although it will consider them if they are useful for an alternative approach, and not to accredit any more organisations to use ContactPoint. It has also discouraged but not forbidden the setting up of new user accounts, suggesting they are confined to people working directly with children in need.

Jeffery says in the letter that the DfE will give notice of when the database will cease to operate, but that it is not yet clear on the way forward.

"We will provide further information to local authorities and other partners in due course about the impact, timings and effects of closing down the system," he says.

This article was originally published at Kable.

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