The countdown is on to the implementation of a single children’s information-sharing database. ALISON MILLER reports on how it will work and the benefi ts it may bring
It was a long time coming but, in the pre-Christmas hiatus, the children’s minister Beverley Hughes fi nally announced that a huge electronic database containing details on every one of Britain’s 11.8m children would be up and running by the end of 2008.
This national index, which has been broadly welcomed by those working with children, will allow practitioners to identify and to contact one another easily and quickly to share relevant
information about children who need services or about whom they have welfare concerns (see Fact file).
The Department for Education and Skills has yet to announce detailed implementation plans, but it will be working closely with the 11 Information Sharing and Assessment trailblazers whose work has infl uenced the development of the index.
One of those is Knowsley Council. Joann Clarke is information sharing and common assessment framework project manger at the authority and is enthusiastic about the advent of a national index.
In January 2005, Knowsley set up a secure online index of local children, containing basic identifying information and contact details of the practitioners working with them. Clarke says the
benefi ts have been wide-ranging – particularly in relation to multi-agency working – and have signifi cantly reduced the time staff spend trying to track down other professionals involved with a
“People are beginning to work together in a more co-ordinated and effi cient way,” she says.
Clarke’s project team set up a two-day training programme, and have since trained practitioners from education, health, the police and leisure on how to use the index, as well as when and how to share data, the role of the lead professional, how to manage multi-agency meetings, and how to use the common assessment framework.
“Change is diffi cult, but people have worked really hard to make this a success,” Clarke says. She claims that Knowsley is now seeing tangible benefi ts as a result, with a decrease in the number of children on the child protection register and a fall in the number of referrals to social services.
The Association of Directors of Social Services (ADSS) shares Clarke’s enthusiasm for the single index and believes the government has struck the right balance between safeguarding and privacy.
Sean Rafferty, head of performance and development for children and young people’s services at Surrey Council, and member of the ADSS performance and standards committee, believes that the big challenge now is coming up with an IT solution that is compatible and simple for all staff to use given that health, education and social services all currently use different systems.
He agrees that partnership working will also be key to success. “We will need all agencies to have a much clearer understanding of the issues and engagement with them,” he explains. “As we move more into partnership working, awareness aroundthe index and information-sharing generally needs to be built into staff ’s professional development.”
Rafferty echoes Clarke’s view of the importance of giving professionals the confi dence to share information. “What tends to happen is that people take a default position not to share information, and some risks come out of that. Professionals need to develop their confi dence about how, when and with whom to share information.”
For Shaun Kelly, safeguarding manager at children’s charity NCH, it is too early to become over enthusiastic about the single index proposal – he believes the devil may yet be in the detail.
“We would be looking for a simple system – one that can link with and use the information already there in other databases,” he states. “The index may have big cost implications for the voluntary sector. Some will have the technology that links in to local authorities – but not all.”
He, too, is concerned about many professionals’ ambivalence about when and how to share information and is keen to see the government’s new guidance on this issue, due out in the spring.
Kelly also sees problems with the government’s failure to propose a system that covers Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as well as England.
“As a big voluntary organisation, we work across the four nations, so we think it is important that the index works across the four nations too.”
Finally, he wants to see a big investment in training for all staff involved in the operation of the index at every level. “Simple mistakes in inputting data could be very serious and there needs to be fail-safes to tackle this,” he insists. “The Laming inquiry told us this, and we really need to listen. Simple stuff really makes a difference in safeguarding children.”
More information from www.ecm.gov.uk
What do children think?
Children’s rights director Roger Morgan asked a variety of children involved with social services for their views on how and when information should be shared about them.
Although all the children thought it was “sometimes” or “always” OK to pass on information if it would stop them being hurt, they didn’t want information to be routinely given to the police or their
parents, and felt teachers and carers should not be given more information than they needed to do their jobs well.
The children wanted to be sure information was being passed on only when it would benefit them. Nearly two thirds said information should be shared if professionals were worried that they were not doing as well as they could at school. However, only a third thought the police should be told if a young person had committed a crime.
Children and young people were clear that it would not be OK to share information either with people who didn’t need to know it, if it was unlikely to benefit the person it was about, if there was no serious risk to them or anyone else involved, or if it was likely to harm them.
More than half said they would be worried if information was passed on about their families, where they lived, if they were taking drugs, if they had committed an offence, if they had self-harmed, or if they had complained about something.
Importantly, they wanted professionals to ask their permission wherever possible about sharing information about them, explaining who with and why.
Full report at www.csci.org.uk
The implementation budget is £224m, and there will be a yearly operational budget of £41m. These costs will be met by central government.
undertaken an assessment in relation to a child.