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ContactPoint to be erased from history

Children's Minister torches child database, suggests we never speak of it again

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The bonfire of the databases continues apace today, with an announcement from Children’s Minister Tim Loughton that ContactPoint will be switched off on 6 August.

The ContactPoint project was launched in the wake of a string of disasters in childcare – of which the Victoria Climbié case was one of the most significant - in which subsequent findings suggested systemic failure on the part of bodies entrusted with the care of children, including a failure to communicate information between professionals.

ContactPoint would have consisted of a national database containing details of all children in the UK – and in some cases continuing to hold records up to the age of 25. As initially envisaged, the base would have included data on professionals and organisations that had had contact with a particular child, and some summary details of the reasons for that contact. However, concerns about confidentiality led to the removal of any personal case data.

This led, in turn, to criticism of ContactPoint from two sides. On the one hand, the view was that it would cease to be a database containing useful background for professionals, being reduced to a glorified telephone directory, enabling case workers from one discipline to get in touch far more speedily with case workers in another area. Political timidity meant it would not contain enough data to do its job properly.

On the other hand, with ContactPoint being a national child database accessible by at least 400,000 individuals, serious concerns were raised by organisations such as ARCH over the security of the base, and potential for abuse.

In a written statement (pdf) to Parliament today, Parliamentary Under Secretary for Children & Families, Tim Loughton MP stated: "It has always been our view that it was disproportionate and unjustifiable to hold records on every child in the country, making them accessible to large numbers of people.

"Accordingly, we are exploring the practicality of a new national signposting service which would focus on helping practitioners find out whether another practitioner is working, or has previously worked, in another authority area with the same vulnerable child."

He went on: "In the meantime, we have considered carefully whether it is necessary to keep the existing ContactPoint database operating... It is now clear that it is not and in the light of the coalition Government’s clear pledge to end ContactPoint as soon as practicable we will now proceed to shut it down."

The database will be switched off on 6 August and subsequently decommissioned. A letter (pdf) has been sent out from the Department of Education to all Contactpoint partners, setting out a detailed timetable for decommissioning.

A managed run-down of the system is envisaged, with last use of the system by Local Authorities taking place on 5 August. However, funding for this process will be ring-fenced by Central Government.

Authorities are requested to remove all reference to ContactPoint from their literature – as ContactPoint becomes an "unsystem", and Central government goes about decommissioning it, removing and destroying the existing data within two months of its "go dead" date.

Another central government imposed system that has come in for some degree of criticism is the Electronic enablement of the Common Assessment Framework (eCAF). This continues to be rolled out. However, today’s briefing note recognises that the removal of ContactPoint from the frame will have implications for eCAF – and further information is promised in due course.

Speaking to the Reg this afternoon, Terri Dowty, Director of Action on Rights for Children (ARCH) and long-standing critic of the project, said: "After several years of hard work we are very pleased to see the end of Contactpoint, a profoundly intrusive system that could never have worked.

"Getting rid of it is a sensible decision, and we hope it will prove to be only the first step towards dismantling the vast range of child monitoring and risk-assessment systems that has accumulated over the past few years." ®

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