The government has launched its national children’s database, ContactPoint, which will provide demographic data on every child in the country plus the name and address of any professional working with them.
The controversial database has been criticised by civil liberties groups and some children’s campaigners, but backed by other children’s organisations and both the Royal College of GPs and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.
Supporters argue that it will deliver faster contact between doctors, social workers and police if a child is at risk.
The database includes the name, address, date of birth, gender and contact details for parents and carers of 11 million under-18s in England. It also includes contact details for the child’s educational setting, GP practice and other practitioners or services working with the child.
In addition, the database will show where a service or practitioner holds an assessment under the Common Assessment Framework or whether they are a lead professional for that child.
The Department for Children Schools and Families said the database, created by Cap Gemini with set up costs of £224m and estimated annual running costs of £41m, will hold no case information and that “it will be impossible to download the contents of ContactPoint.”
Children’s secretary Ed Balls said: “The support we have had for ContactPoint from both experts and those that work on the frontline demonstrates to me that we are doing the right thing.
“We have seen from recent serious case reviews that a lack of proper and timely information sharing can have tragic consequences. No system can ever guarantee that all children will be safe but we know ContactPoint will make a real difference.”
The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have pledged to scrap the online system because they claim there is a danger of sensitive information being mislaid or lost.
David Laws, shadow children’s secretary for the Liberal Democrats, claimed an independent review had already undermined the government’s assurances that the database would be secure.
He added: “The Government has shown it can’t be trusted with sensitive data. Parents have every right to demand that their children’s personal details are not put at risk.”
The launch of ContactPoint has been delayed twice following concerns about its security. The database was also the subject of controversy this summer when it emerged that police will be able to apply for access to search for evidence of cirminal activity.
The DCSF said that two security vetted officials from local authorities all over England will begin training to use ContactPoint from today.
More intensive training will also start in 17 local authorities in the North West and with two voluntary sector partners, charities, Barnado’s and KIDS. The DCSF said frontline practitioners will start training and operating the system in these areas in the spring and across the country from the summer.
The database was created following a recommendation from Lord Laming who led the inquiry into the death in London in 2000 of Victoria Climbie, who was abused and murdered by her aunt and her aunt’s boyfriend.
Today Lord Laming said the launch of ContactPoint “won’t change the world” but was a positive step forward in delivering on the government’s Every Child Matters agenda.
He added: “It will not replace the need for children’s services organisations to ensure effective working across teams, across services and agencies, including sharing information where this is appropriate. But, in time, I believe ContactPoint will be an important tool in supporting this practice.”
Dr Maureen Baker, secretary of the RCGP, said: “We see it as a tool to help co-ordinate the work of many agencies (including general practice). It should help GPs in their shared aim of delivering positive outcomes for children in their care.”