Coalition revisits scrapped and useless ContactPoint

The Department for Education is preparing to create a national computer database similar to that of ContactPoint.

In a letter from Tim Loughton MP to Professor Munro, who is conducting an official review into child protection, a new IT system has been discussed that bears similarities to the previous administration’s.

“We agree that any national approach must be fit for purpose, proportionate and relate to a clear need,” said Loughton, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families in a letter dated November 8 that was made public in a Commons Debate on Monday. “It must also be cost effective and have benefits for the front line of child protection. This was not the case with Contact Point.”

“However, while recognising that ICT can never be the whole answer to improving frontline practice, it is worth considering whether ICT might play a useful role in supporting aspects of social work and the protection of children and young people-as indeed you have pointed out in your first review report.”

The ContactPoint computer system, which aimed to create an infrastructure that would help protect children at risk, was much maligned by the Conservatives while in opposition, and was promptly scrapped altogether by the Coalition government.

However it is believed that a new system would be different from Contact Point insofar as it would only contain details of children known to be at risk, with the focus on looked after children or those who have already been subject to a child protection plan rather than a comprehensive database.

It was initially discussed in the House via a written ministerial statement that Loughton would investigate a possible successor to ContactPoint back in July.

The letter discusses a number of issues including what information practitioners should have access to, under what criteria a child’s details could be removed from the database, and the cost effectiveness of the new system.

TechEye is aware that, though a new sign posting system may cost less than the previous ContactPoint, it will still represent a significant deficit in the £244 million that was lost by developing and then scrapping the previous.

In the letter it is said that it is not known to what extent “assets” of ContactPoint would be re-used within the new system.

Professor Munro’s response, already made public on January 17, showed that cost-effectiveness is something that the government is very keen to emphasise.

“It goes without saying that the cost-effectiveness of any recommendations will be central to my thinking,” Munro replied.

The Department of Education has informed TechEye that Munro is due to report back with preliminary findings around the beginning of February, with a full report due in April.  If there is a decision to go ahead with a ContactPoint replacement it is understood that there is likely to be a series of pilot trials.