ContactPoint closes but what next?

At midday last Friday, somewhere, someplace, a switch was flicked and ContactPoint, the database of all 11 million children and young people in England, was no more. But what it is to be replaced with is still a mystery and this troubling.

ContactPoint was not exactly universally loved. Its purpose was to enable people in different services to access information about children that had been in contact with, but common criticisms included:

  • Being over-expensive – it cost £235 million to set up
  • Keeping records of every child, not just those in contact with social services
  • Being plagued with technical difficulties
  • Poorly updated
  • Data protection issues (how long before some of the information ended up on a laptop or memory stick got lost?)
  • Civil liberties issues – it was described as intrusive and disproportionate.

But despite all its faults, surely it would have been better to stick with ContactPoint until a suitable replacement had been found? Apparently not, according to the government, which is still thinking about what it wants to do next.

Currently, the government says it “continues to consider the feasibility of a new signposting service for professionals to help them to support and protect our most vulnerable children, particularly when these children move areas or access services in more than one area.”

This smacks of policy being made on the hoof, and another bit of cost-cutting – ContactPoint was apparently going to cost another £41 million this year – without getting proper plans in place to replace it.

I assume the ongoing Munro Review will have a say on what should replace ContactPoint. That is due to report back in April 2011, with an interim report preceding it in January. To me, after a proper period of reflection and assessment of what would make a better system, this would have been the time to end ContactPoint.

In terms of a replacement, professionals do need to be able to quickly see who else is working with a child, and when a child moves area, those picking up the case need to be able to easily see what has gone on previously.

Perhaps a system that only has records of children who have come into services, and that can only be accessed by a strictly-monitored group of professionals, would be considered. A ContactPoint Lite, if you will.

But that is only my opinion – it is the government’s that matters. And until such time as they do announce its replacement, I assume that professionals are back to where they were before ContactPoint was switched on in 2009. While in some areas there is good communication between professionals in different disciplines, in others, there isn’t. It is worrying therefore that there isn’t the safeguard of ContactPoint – despite its flaws – to fall back on.

This is why the government’s decision could backfire. If a child who has moved areas is killed before a new system is in place, then there could be some nasty flak heading the government’s way.

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