What are the options to replace Contactpoint?

Social networking sites could be the model used in designing a replacement for ContactPoint child protection database. Molly Garboden reports. (Picture credit Rex Features)

Social networking sites could be the model used in designing a replacement for ContactPoint child protection database. Molly Garboden reports

ContactPoint is dead. Long live?

Mystery continues over what will replace the controversial ContactPoint database, designed to hold personal details of every child in England, but this month abolished by the government.

Ministers say they are still in talks on a “national signposting system” to help professionals work together to spot the abuse of potentially vulnerable children. Other agencies, such as the Children’s Workforce Development Council (CWDC), refuse to comment.

A debate is under way about lessons that could be learned from existing systems and new technology. Even social networking sites such as Facebook are suggested as models for a replacement.

Improved Caf

Robert Fitzgerald, children’s services product manager at OLM Systems, says it is important to consider the purpose of any replacement: “They have to think, is it a risk-management tool? A research tool? If they want significant change, they’re going to have to rethink the design of the whole thing.”

He suggests that a system similar to the child protection database established in Scotland might be a starting point.

Another possibility is an improved common assessment framework which could form “local communication hubs”, forcing agencies to work together and share information.

But some argue the CAF has a long way to go before it could take on this role.

“The CAF functions on a local level, working as an integrated process so it becomes the initial assessment for the children’s services department,” says Denise Harrison, director of Integrated Children’s System provider LiquidLogic, which has designed an electronic CAF system.

“That system is going to be complicated if part of the process is elevated to a national level. You’ll have part of the system working locally, the other nationally. From a logistical standpoint, that would be very difficult.”

She says that such a task would be made more difficult without the help of ContactPoint.

“The CAF system was originally designed to sit alongside ContactPoint,” she says. “In order to find out whether a CAF already existed for a child, you had to go into ContactPoint. What we’re left with now is a large collection of electronic assessments for children without a database to help organise or search for them.”

However, Pat Ellison, who works across the gap between IT systems and practice at Barnardo’s, says the two systems never worked together as originally planned and it was difficult to use ContactPoint to check that there was a CAF in place.

Ellison believes the national eCAF, the digital version of CAF being rolled out across the country and piloted by Barnardo’s, could replace aspects of ContactPoint. For Barnardo’s, she says, the richness of the information available from the eCAF is more useful than the lists published in ContactPoint.

“We can supervise cases better if the information is with us instead of 152 local authorities,” she says. “Having some kind of national consistency underpinned by a system is better and safer for children and families, but people don’t live their lives in compartments, so we need a system that allows for flexibility. I think the eCAF does that.”

Social networking

But perhaps a new type of thinking is needed. In a world increasingly dominated by social media, Dominic Campbell, of social innovation consultancy FutureGov, has designed a system based on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Safeguarding 2.0 allows practitioners to sign up to a child’s account. This includes a case chronology, a line graph showing agency contact made with the child over time, and a forum on which practitioners can discuss their observations, progress and concerns. There is also a word cloud showing which key words come up most often in the case.

Campbell says such a system is more holistic than others, pointing out that, like Facebook, it has a relationships wheel. The child is in the centre and lines connect those who have a role in their life. This shows where the gaps are and when a person has an unexplained role in the child’s life.

Campbell is in talks with councils about setting up a pilot so, as yet, the system is untested. But then the government has yet to set a date for a replacement solution to be in place, so perhaps time is on his side.

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