ContactPoint may be dead, but the government could yet find a use for some parts of the old system when its new national signposting service finally surfaces, some time in the next couple of years.
That appears to be the general gist of a letter sent by Tim Loughton, Secretary of State for Education to Professor Eileen Munro, who is currently leading a review into issues surrounding child protection. The focus of this review, according to the Cabinet Office, is on how best to remove the barriers and bureaucracy which prevent social workers spending valuable time with vulnerable children.
Details of the letter, which was sent in November 2010, were released yesterday in response to a written parliamentary question by Tory MP Charlotte Leslie. The letter emphasises that any future system should restrict itself to holding details of children known to be at risk, most likely those who have been subject to a child protection plan or who have looked after by a public authority.
This is in direct contrast to the approach taken by the original ContactPoint scheme, which was criticised for being at the same time both too broad and too shallow: that is, it would have held contact details for any and every individual who had had contact with a child in some caring capacity (including not just social workers, but police and medical staff as well), but it would have included no details of the precise risks posed to individual children.
The new base would also need to have clear criteria for the removal of a child's details from the database.
The government has therefore asked Professor Munro to look at various key questions before submitting any recommendations. These include the needs of practitioners in respect of quickly identifying children; the full range of categories of child that should be included; new processes needed to work with a new ICT system; and, crucially, any impact such a system might have on existing professional practice.
Finally, the minister asked Professor Munro to look at the cost-effectiveness of such a system.
This approach, together with a series of small-scale pilots in local authorities and hospital accident and emergency departments, and a stepped evaluation of individual data sources that may be included in the new system, suggest a much more softly-softly approach than before.
The letter also makes clear that "there will be no fixed assumption that ContactPoint assets should be re-used": in other words, the government might, or it might not.
Since the data in the old ContactPoint system has now supposedly been put beyond all possibility of recovery, the main assets remaining are the system structure, and any ETL routines relating to existing systems.
Professor Munro responded by expressing her support for such an approach. She gave her commitment to meeting already agreed deadlines, including an interim report by the end of January and a final report, with substantive recommendations, by April 2011. ®