Never loved, often reviled, the child protection register has had its day. In two years’ time it will be replaced, and all child protection plans will be stored within electronic social care records under the Integrated Children’s System. In one sense it is a welcome improvement in the system of child protection since the register involves a kind of double jeopardy: children at risk who aren’t on it can be overlooked while the children who are on it can be falsely assumed to be safe.
Lord Laming, in his inquiry report on Victoria Climbi, set the ball rolling three years ago by proposing plans to safeguard and promote a child’s welfare instead of the register. Although the five-year gap between idea and implementation is regrettable, the technical complexities involved in setting up an electronic system probably made it inevitable.
On the upside, the Integrated Children’s System should be a multi-agency resource without the limitations of a register that was often paid lip-service by everyone other than social services, while the focus of child protection conferences will be on who should do what and when, regardless of agency affiliation, in fulfilment of the plan. This has to be good for children at risk of significant harm, but only if they receive a service on the basis of need and not on the basis of whatever inadequate resources allow.
That, of course, is half the problem with the child protection register. Because services to children outside the register have been rationed – and the system of performance indicators has provided every incentive to keep them outside – the register has acted as an unofficial gatekeeper for services. At least this has meant that the children who are on the register are more likely to get the services they need.
The danger now is that, in a cash-starved service environment, the distinction between more and less urgent cases will be lost. Only a year ago, the government itself appeared to have had second thoughts about scrapping the register because it feared the consequences for children. Now it has opted to go ahead, it can best protect them by proceeding cautiously.
See Child protection register scrapped in favour of electronic care records