Dai Durbridge discusses ContactPoint, the database recording all detail of children in England, and its impact on education and chid protection

ContactPoint  is set to be introduced very soon. Since January 2009, important progress has been made. Seventeen early adopter local authorities in the north west of England, along with leading national charities Barnardo’s and KIDS, now have trained management teams in preparation for practitioners to start to use the system. Dai Durbridge looks at the reasons for the creation of ContactPoint and the impact it will have upon education.

What is ContactPoint?

ContactPoint has been developed in response to a key recommendation of Lord Laming’s inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbié. In essence it is a contact list for professionals who work with children and young people that is intended to provide those professionals with a quick way to find out who else is working with the same child or young person, making it easier for them to work as a team and deliver more coordinated support.

The initiative is widely supported by major children’s organisations, such as the NSPCC, Barnardo’s, Action for Children and KIDS; teachers’ unions, including NASUWT; as well as the Association of Chief Police Officers and the British Association of Social Workers. Indeed, in Lord Laming’s recent report on child protection he said that: ‘The new ContactPoint system will have particular advantages in reducing the possibility of children for whom there are concerns going unnoticed.’

What are the benefits?

This quick way for practitioners to find out who else is working with the same child will provide key benefits such as improved service experience for children, young people and families through more coordinated service delivery which in turn should result in faster and more effective intervention before problems become serious.

It also aims to significantly reduce the amount of unproductive time spent by practitioners identifying which other services are involved with a child and then trying to contact the right person. This is conservatively estimated by the DCSF to be worth five million practitioner hours a year.

In short, it is intended to be a tool for practitioners to support better communication among practitioners working with children and young people across education, health, social care and youth offending services in the statutory and voluntary sectors.

Why do all children in England have to be on ContactPoint?

It is estimated that three to four million children and young people in England need extra support at any one time, but it is impossible to predict which children are going to need this support or when they will need it. The purpose of ContactPoint is to help make sure all children and young people can get extra support quickly, rather than waiting for problems to get more serious.

ContactPoint will hold nothing more than basic identifying information. This includes the child’s name, address, gender, date of birth and basic identifying information about the child’s parents or carers, together with a record of all services involved with the child. As a minimum, each child’s school and GP practice will be included on their record. There will also be the facility to indicate if a practitioner is a lead professional for a child and if they have completed an assessment under the Common Assessment Framework (the assessment itself will not be held on ContactPoint).

Importantly, ContactPoint will not hold any case information (such as case notes or details of any assessments, medical data or school records, including exam results) or details of sensitive services.

What are ‘sensitive services’?

Sensitive services have been defined as services relating to sexual health, mental health and substance abuse. Explicit, informed consent of the child or young person (or parent/carer if acting on their behalf) will be required to record contact details for a sensitive service. Where they are recorded, only an indication of an unspecified sensitive service would be visible to the majority of users.

However, where consent is withheld the details of the sensitive service practitioner may still be added to ContactPoint in circumstances where there are genuine child protection concerns.

Where has this original data on each child come from?

The information needed for ContactPoint comes from existing systems including the General Register Office, the DCSF schools census, the Department of Work and Pensions’ child benefit database and the NHS Personal Demographics Service, which has provided GP practice information.

Regulations approved by parliament specify who is required and who is permitted to supply information to ContactPoint.

Contact details for other services (such as health visitor, social worker, youth worker) will be added in the future. The DCSF and local authorities are continuing to work with a number of organisations across the children’s workforce about the supply of data.

Who will use ContactPoint?

Access to ContactPoint will be strictly limited to those who need it as part of their work. Authorised users will include those working in health, education, youth justice, social care and voluntary organisations to help ensure more coordinated service provision for children and young people.

Before being granted access, all users must have completed identity checks, enhanced Criminal Records Bureau disclosure (renewable every three years) and mandatory training. To access ContactPoint all users must have a user name, password, security token and PIN.

How secure will it be?

As you would expect, the government has said that security is the top priority. ContactPoint has undergone numerous levels of testing and review and the DSCF says it meets recognised assurance levels for security.

Numerous measures have been introduced, including an audit trail and ensuring access to ContactPoint is limited to two methods: through a secure weblink or through existing case management systems. Even then, entry can only be gained through a 2-stage authentication process unique to each user, which is likely to be similar to that used by internet banking systems.

When does ContactPoint go live?

It moved into its first phase of delivery on 26 January 2009, which allowed local authorities to start shielding the small proportion of records on ContactPoint for which this measure is appropriate. By mid-May this year, 17 early adopter local authorities in the north west of England, along with leading national charities Barnardo’s and KIDS, now have trained management teams in preparation for practitioners to start to use the system.

Further information on ContactPoint.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in June 2009

About the author: Dai Durbridge is a solicitor for Browne Jacobson specialising in child protection and education.