Jenni Whitehead investigates a new IT-based system of sharing information between key agencies

The government intends to introduce a new way of sharing information about children who are receiving a variety of services. This new system has previously been referred to as the ‘Information Sharing Index’ but will now be known as ContactPoint.

ContactPoint is one of a range of new systems designed to enable services to share information about children and to alert services when other agencies are involved in work with the child and their family. The idea of using an IT system to share information has been met by both positive and negative responses. Some see the system as a way of ensuring that important information is shared with relevant agencies and that it will prove an essential tool in making sure children are accessing appropriate help. Others raise a concern that information will be missed and that workers might actually share less.

ContactPoint will not hold assessment or case information, or subjective observations about the family and will not contain detailed information that is held by a variety of agencies. It will hold the following information:

  • basic identifying information for all children in England (aged up to 18): name, address, gender, date of birth and a unique identifying number 
  • basic identifying information about the child’s parent or carer 
  • contact details for services involved with the child: as a minimum, educational setting and GP practice, but also other services where appropriate
  • a means to indicate that a practitioner has information to share, is taking action, or has undertaken an assessment under the Common Assessment Framework in relation to a child.

In most cases consent will be required from the child’s parents or from the child if they are of sufficient age and understanding, to record details about which services are working with them. Where consent is given, access to the information will be restricted, only shared with authorised users of the system.

Authorised users of ContactPoint will include workers from education, health and social care, youth offending teams and some voluntary organisations. Authorised users will be subject to CRB checks and will be given training on using the system and on the legislation that affects how the system is operated, most importantly the Data Protection Act and the Human Rights Act.

Most authorised users will be able to access ContactPoint through a secure web link; however some agencies may access through existing case management systems.

One of the main issues of concern about setting up such a system is security; the government now claims that these issues have been ironed out. A number of security measures will be put in place, including:

  • access to be restricted to those who need it as part of their work
    n everyone with access to be subject to stringent security checks, including enhanced CRB clearance 
  • a minimum of ‘two-factor’ authentication will be required for access 
  • all users will be trained in the importance of good security practice 
  • users must be able to state a reason for accessing a record 
  • every access to a child’s record will be detailed in the audit trail. This will be regularly reviewed 
  • various sanctions will be available to tackle misuse, including disciplinary action or prosecution under existing legislation, which may result in a fine or imprisonment. 

With specific regard to child protection, named persons will be authorised to use ContactPoint. While it is expected that in most cases consent from families will be sought before information is shared with another agency, in respect of child protection it may be the professional judgement of a named person that to ask consent would place a child at increased risk and in these circumstances the named person will be expected to share their information without asking the consent of the parents. Asking for consent to share information is, however, different from telling a parent that information will be shared and it is expected that in most cases a parent will be told that concerns are to be shared with another agency (some LAs hold an agreement that where a child or young person discloses child sexual abuse the named person will seek advice from social services before making contact with a parent. Check with your safeguarding board on local agreements).

The government’s ContactPoint policy statement says that this system will not replace child protection registration and that there will not be a system of red flagging children who are on the register as this would be case sensitive information. It is envisaged, however, that with the introduction of the Integrated Children’s System (ICS) within social services that there will not be a need to continue to keep a separate child protection register and so it is expected that registers will be phased out once ICSs are up and running.

Statutory guidance is being developed, which will provide further details about the operation, security and maintenance of ContactPoint. This guidance will cover issues such as how a record will be created and maintained, and how access to records will be granted and controlled.

A finalised version of the guidance will be published in late 2007and it is hoped that the system will be up and running in 2008.

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