Tag Archives: ContactPoint

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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Yet another review of child protection coming

Child protection still isn’t working well enough. That’s the message from the Department for Education today, and, as is traditional with such things, is setting up a review of the profession to address this.

But the focus of the review is not on the quality of social workers, but on cutting bureaucracy and the barriers that prevent social workers spending more time with vulnerable children.

“Hallelujah” I hear social workers cry…

So, could this be an end to the much-disliked ‘box-ticking culture’ that has developed within social work in recent years? Let’s hope so. I’ve spoken to many in the profession over the past couple of years, and a constant theme is the amount of admin and paperwork they have to do – some have said it is as much as an 80-20 split on paperwork to spending time with children.

The initial signs that change might be coming are good. For example, the choice of Professor Eileen Munro to lead the review is positive. She is well respected within the profession and will not pull any punches or follow any particular political agendas.

In addition, the review will be informed by successful child protection systems from other countries.

The review will also look at how effectively children’s social workers and professionals in other agencies work together. From what I have written in the past, this is patchy – some are very good, others not, with a whole range of issues affecting this – but a drive to remove barriers to working together more makes sense – they are all pursuing the same goal, after all.

Nevertheless, social workers are in general a cynical bunch and will greet this review like they have greeted others in the recent past: I’ll believe it when I see it.

Many reviews have come and gone in children’s social work – most recently the Social Work Task Force – and often they have had little effect on frontline practice. I imagine this will be treated in the same manner until things actually start to change.

Elsewhere, children’s minister Tim Loughton also confirmed that serious case reviews are to be published in full but with redactions and anonymised ‘except where it would affect the welfare of any surviving children and their siblings’ and that ContactPoint is to be scrapped.

Both these are controversial. I won’t go over my standpoint on SCRs again – see SCRs – to publish or not to publish for that. But it does seem odd that the government is advocating more integrated working, but at the same time getting rid of ContactPoint, a database that should help that. It also seems like a huge waste of money, given the millions spent on it – and will anything be put in its place?

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