Talk of child database cost running into billions dismissed by officials

    Senior government officials have rejected suggestions that a
    children’s database will be too expensive.

    Information commissioner Richard Thomas told MPs last month that
    the system was likely to be “phenomenally expensive” and could be
    unworkable in parts.

    The House of Commons education and skills committee’s
    Every Child Matters inquiry responded by demanding
    assurances over the cost.

    But last week, Jeanette Pugh, director of the children’s
    workforce development unit at the Department for Education and
    Skills, told the MPs: “I have heard estimates that it will cost
    billions. I can assure the committee that we will not be using that
    sort of money.”

    She also said it was critical that the system to improve
    communication between professionals was successful.

    Tom Jeffery, the DfES’s director general of children and
    young people, said he “completely understood” the MPs’
    concerns. But he insisted that professionals involved in the 10
    information sharing and assessment trailblazers had given a
    “positive account” of the IT systems.

    The system, central to measures in the Children Act 2004 to
    improve information-sharing between agencies dealing with children,
    will comprise 150 local indexes operating to the same standards and
    feeding into a national database.

    MPs remained concerned that the database would not increase
    child protection but join the list of government IT projects, such
    as the Criminal Records Bureau, that have been criticised for high
    cost and poor performance.

    Giving evidence last month, Thomas raised “serious concerns”
    about the database, including worries over how the information
    would be kept up to date and accurate.

    He warned: “As you collect so much information on so many
    children you run the risk of losing the important cases among the
    mass of other cases. It becomes very, very complicated.”

    Arguing against the creation of a database, Eileen Munro, reader
    in social policy at the London School of Economics, told the
    committee that it was not a lack of information that had been a
    problem in the Victoria Climbié case but rather workers’
    inability to analyse it.

    Children’s minister Margaret Hodge was due to give
    evidence to the inquiry as Community Care went to
    press.

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