The hub of action

Lucy Ruddy is the information, referral and tracking
manager at East Sussex Council. She has worked in a range of
schools and specialised in special educational needs. She is
interested in behavioural difficulties and ran a pupil referral
unit and behaviour support service in East Sussex. She was a
teacher adviser for special education needs and inclusion for four
years before being seconded to the IRT department.

Under the government’s proposals for children’s services, local
authorities could be required to have an “information hub” holding
electronic records of all the children and young people who live in
their area. East Sussex Council has been piloting such a hub since
March this year, and professionals are beginning to see the

This hub – or children’s index as it is known – covers children and
young people up to the age of 18. It is similar to an electronic
telephone directory and is accessible online to practitioners who
are authorised to access it. Being available on the internet, it is
available all the time from any terminal. Access and actions are
audited and any irregular use is followed up.

The children’s index contains basic contact information for the
children and young people as well as various extra details. It
holds data on the universal services they are involved with, such
as their school and GP, as well as any additional or specialist
services that are working with them. The index automatically draws
on several existing databases and so the information tends to be up
to date.

Practitioners can also log their own involvement directly.
Currently, the index has information on about one-third of East
Sussex Council’s children and young people but, by the end of the
year, they will all be included.

Following legal advice, the children’s index was supplied with data
from the children’s health records and the county’s education
database. In order for this to be done legally, all parents and
young people were informed through a document describing the index
and explaining its purpose. This provoked some concerns,
particularly around the notion that personal data could be shared
without an individual’s knowledge or permission being given, as
well as raising some questions over how secure that data would be.
In general, though, most families were comfortable with the idea of
the children’s index.

As it is, working within current legislation, the index holds data
about the universal services in contact with the children without
explicit consent being sought from the parents. However, all other
data, such as contact with a speech therapist for example, can be
logged only after the family has given consent for the information
to be shared with other agencies. This compromise has helped the
index to be more widely accepted and has reduced fears that the
system is holding and sharing information behind clients’ backs. As
it is only practitioners’ contact details that are held -Ênot
information about the child’s circumstances or any case data
-Êthere is no opportunity for unsubstantiated rumour or
factual mistakes to be logged. Any sharing of personal information
or case details continues to takes place between professionals,
face-to-face or by phone, within current rules and protocols.

Practitioners are now encouraged to check the index when they
receive a referral, or when they are concerned about a child or
young person. It shows them who else is involved and who they
should contact for further information. By doing this,
practitioners should automatically start to think in more of a
multi-agency manner.

The list of professionals involved reminds everyone that a team
exists around the child or young person which allows each
practitioner to modify their actions in light of the support
offered by the other workers.

Staff from 50 health, social care and education services were
consulted to help devise the tools to improve multi-agency
communication and information sharing. For some practitioners these
consultations were the first multi-agency training or staff
development sessions they had experienced. Fortunately, the project
received enthusiastic support from all the partner agencies both at
strategic and front-line level.

The potential for the children’s index is enormous. One early
development could be to monitor the number of times a child’s
record is accessed as this could show a higher-than-average level
of concern, even when there are few or no additional services
involved. Another idea could be to monitor the number of services
involved, and for the children’s index to notify the practitioners
so that they can take action. But there is no intention for the
index to act as a kind of “back stop” for children’s services, as
it is not appropriate for an electronic system to make decisions
about whether a child is at risk.

Another development that would improve the capacity of the index to
support child protection may be enabled by the Children Bill. This
could make it feasible for details about any practitioner
involvement to be logged invisibly, where there is not consent from
the parents but where a practitioner is concerned about the child
or young person. This data would not need to be shown to users of
the index, unless and until the record is accessed during a child
protection investigation.

The road to achieving the children’s index and associated tools has
been tortuous at times. The pilot itself is giving early and
important lessons about the technical, legal and professional
challenges in setting up such a hub, as well as useful information
about the potential for child protection and improved co-ordinated
children’s services. But establishing such a system represents a
big step forward for children’s welfare. Practitioners report that
they can spend hours trying to establish the most basic of facts
about a child or young person. Systems such as the children’s index
can speed up this part of their work.


The green paper Every Child Matters describes the need
for agencies to work better together and share information more
readily. This article looks at the experience of East Sussex, which
has been acting as a trailblazer authority, attempting to find a
local solution to these problems. It is one of the first local
authorities to have a live universal information hub, which it has
called the children’s index. This holds basic information about the
child or young person, as well as contact information for all the
services, universal or specialist, that are involved with them. The
children’s index is a tool to support improved communication
between all agencies.

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