Up to 800 health, education and social care professionals are to start using the national children’s database ContactPoint from today, the government has announced.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families said selected professionals based in 17 local authorities in North West England, together with staff working for the charities Barnardo’s and KIDS, will be the first practitioners in the country able to use ContactPoint.

The online directory was set up as a result of the Victoria Climbe inquiry and will hold demographic data on the 11m children in England under the age of 18.

It will also hold contact details for the child’s education setting, GP practice and other practitioners or services working with the child. It will further show if a service holds an assessment under the Common Assessment Framework and whether a practitioner is a lead professional for the child.

The database has been heavily criticised by privacy campaigners and security concerns have twice led to delays in its launch. In March this year, the DCSF said it would pause the flow of data into ContactPoint after staff discovered loopholes in the system.

The North West roll-out will be followed between June and August by training for management teams in other local authorities and national partner organisations. Wider deployment will happen “in due course”, children’s secretary Ed Balls told MPs.

Children’s minister Delyth Morgan said the practitioners about to start using ContactPoint have been undergoing training since January.

She added: “Under current arrangements, if a practitioner believes that a child is at risk or may need additional support – for example if they have a disability – they may have no way of knowing whether other services might already be in contact with that child.

“We estimate that ContactPoint, when fully operational, can save at least 5m hours of professionals’ time, freeing them up from trying to track down other practitioners and enabling them to spend more time on the child.”

The DCSF said local authorities have so far shielded the records of more than 51,500 children to protect those who could be at risk should their whereabouts be visible.

The database is estimated to have cost £224m to set up with annual running costs of £41m. Balls said information sharing was crucial to ensure children were protected and did not slip through the net.

He added: “ContactPoint is vital for this because it will enable frontline professionals to see quickly and easily who else is in contact with a child.”

The DCSF said ContactPoint was backed by children’s charities and the NSPCC, as well as organisations such as the Royal College of GPs and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.

Kim Bromley-Derry, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said the importance of making sure children could not fall through the gaps between agencies was underlined by recent tragedies.

He added: “ContactPoint can be a useful tool in ensuring that professionals can contact each other quickly and easily to discuss their views of a particular case. We now look forward to training staff how to use ContactPoint effectively so that we can, at last, begin to reap the benefits of the system.”

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