Basic information about every child in England will be recorded on an electronic database by 2008, children’s minister Beverley Hughes confirmed yesterday.
The IS (information-sharing) Index will only contain “basic identifying information” about children such as names, parents, schools and GPs.
Professionals including social workers and youth offending teams will be able to access the information.
In his 2003 report about the death of Victoria Climbie, Lord Laming recommended a national database of all children under 16.
Hughes said a “lengthy process of listening and learning” had been necessary before the index could be introduced.
Concerns about the viability of a database due to confidentiality issues and compatibility of IT systems have been expressed within social work ever since the database idea was first mooted.
There are also concerns about cost, especially for a system that registers all children, not just vulnerable ones. The government estimates the index will cost £224 million to set up, then £41 million a year to run.
Hughes claimed it could save around £88 million a year as practitioners will waste less time trying to contact each other.
The index must operate across the UK, not just in England, to “really benefit children,” said NSPCC chief executive Mary Marsh.
The NSPCC is worried about costs and “fears it will be extremely difficult and time consuming to maintain the quality of the data kept on the system, especially in areas with a high turnover of population”.
“The government’s proposals have responded to the concerns raised by the children’s sector,” said Paul Ennals, chief executive at the National Children’s Bureau.
“The index has the potential to bring real benefits to many children currently missing out from universal services by making it easier for professionals to communicate with one another. But of course the index is only a supporting tool and professionals themselves must improve the way in which they work together,” he added.
Director of children’s services in East Sussex Matt Dunkley said his authority’s local index has brought “significantly improved services to children and their families”.
“Our experience shows that practitioners can now spend time focusing on frontline services, instead of tracking down other professionals involved,” he said.