Memorandum by Terri Dowty, Director,
ARCH (Action on Rights for Children)
1. ARCH is a children's rights organisation based
on human rights instruments. It has a particular focus on children's
civil liberties and on the issues arising from developments in
Information Technology. We welcome this opportunity to put before
the Committee our continuing concerns about the proposed database
of all children in England, now known as 'ContactPoint'.
2. It is important that ContactPoint is seen
in the context of the wider 'Every Child Matters'
agenda, which envisages a system of information-sharing
between practitioners in order to detect signs of possible problems
in a child's life and offer intervention.
3. Since 2000 it has been mandatory for all public
sector databases to conform to the eGovernment Interoperability
to facilitate the sharing of data across the range of systems
that already exist in education, social care and youth justice.
4. A further system is being implemented at local
authority level: the electronically enabled Common Assessment
This is an in-depth assessment tool to be used when a practitioner
believes that a child is not making appropriate progress towards
the 'five outcomes' defined by government in the 'Every Child
Matters' green paper, and is thus in need of additional services
beyond the universal ones. The government estimates that around
1 in 3 children will need such services.
5. ContactPoint will provide a central directory
for all of the other systems. It will contain information to identify
the child and his/her family, contact details for most practitioners
involved with the child and, where an eCAF has been carried out,
an indication that this is available. The government has said
that information about what it describes as 'sensitive' services
(sexual health, mental health and substance abuse services) will
not normally appear on ContactPoint. However, their definition
of sensitive is not the same as that contained within the Data
Protection Act 1998 
and the basic data that will be displayed is capable of
indicating religious beliefs, disabilities and the marital status
of parents. In addition, details that a child needs additional
services or is known to Social Care are considered personal and
sensitive by many children and parents.
Compatibility with the European Convention on
6. When the Children Act 2004 was scrutinised
by the Joint Committee on Human Rights,
the Committee expressed concern about the lack of detail
contained on the face of the Bill and the breadth of the regulation-making
powers being conferred on the Secretary of State in a context
involving serious interferences with Article 8 rights. It reiterated
the importance of including necessary safeguards in primary legislation
'The fact that the regulations must be made by
affirmative resolution procedure therefore does not fully meet
our concern in this respect. Such instruments are unamendable.
Given the importance of the rights at stake, it is always preferable
for the necessary procedural safeguards to be contained in primary
legislation and subjected to full parliamentary scrutiny for compatibility
with human rights.'
7. The Committee expressed the view that:
'if the justification for information-sharing
about children is that it is always proportionate where the purpose
is to identify children who need child welfare services, there
is no meaningful content left to a child's Article 8 right to
privacy and confidentiality in their personal information.'
8. The Committee welcomed an apparent acceptance
by the government of the need for comprehensive statutory guidance
on information sharing; however, the guidance that has been published
by the government is non-statutory. Moreover, we believe that
it contains significant misunderstanding of the settled law relating
to the circumstances in which children under the age of 16 can
give informed consent to information-sharing without involving
The Objectives of ContactPoint
9. The stated purpose of ContactPoint is to ensure
that all practitioners involved with a child are aware of each
other's existence and can share information promptly with each
other in order to identify additional services needed by the child.
There are a number of problems with this approach.
Children's own views:
10. The research that has been carried out with
children themselves indicates that information-sharing may have
a deterrent effect on their willingness to use services if they
are not completely confident of confidentiality. A survey of children's
views of ContactPoint, published by the Children's Commissioner,
highlighted this possibility and recommended that the government
takes seriously: 'The view of a significant minority of respondents
that many young people will attempt to avoid being recorded on
the database when it is introduced because they believe that it
is intrusive'.  The
survey also found that: 'resistance to teachers' access was even
more widespread across the groups. This appeared to reflect their
experiences of their information not being treated confidentially
11. A similar CSCI survey of looked-after children
found that one-fifth did not want social workers or Connexions
staff to have access.
Research by the Children's Rights Alliance for England reported
that 'there was concern that if children thought adults were going
to share information with other people, they would stop confiding
in adults altogether.' 
A survey of Brook clients found that 74% of under-16s would be
less likely to use sexual health services if information was shared
with social workers.
Child protection implications:
12. The government has repeatedly asserted that
the development of ContactPoint and the 'Every Child Matters'
agenda is a response to the death of Victoria Climbie. This is
not accurate. The agenda, originally called 'Identification, Referral
and Tracking' (IRT) pre-dates the Laming Inquiry, and did not
mention child protection in its criteria. It is also highly doubtful
that Victoria Climbie would have been entered on ContactPoint,
as this Guardian letter from a child protection specialist explains:
What she (Beverley Hughes) fails to point out
is that her own department's draft guidance for the use of the
ContactPoint database appears to rule out the inclusion of children
who are only temporarily in England. Victoria Climbié never
had a settled address in England and it seemed to many of those
dealing with her and her great aunt that they might soon return
to France. Had ContactPoint been in existence it seems highly
likely that Victoria would not have been on it. 
13. It is important to note that the usual meaning
of 'at risk' has changed. 'Every Child Matters' has widened the
definition to include being 'at risk' of poor outcomes, or of
committing crime. It no longer carries its s47 Children Act 1989
definition of 'at risk of significant harm from abuse or neglect'.
This redefinition has created confusion in the minds of the public
- and of many practitioners - that ContactPoint is primarily about
child protection. In reality, many child protection specialists
have expressed alarm that practitioners will be so overwhelmed
with low-level data about all children that those at risk of harm
will in fact be less likely to be noticed. We should also add
that the history of reliability in government IT projects is poor,
and it would be dangerous to rely on ContactPoint to deliver any
child protection function.
14. There is no evidence that ContactPoint will
make any significant contribution to improving child protection
services. There are well established guidelines for all agencies
on working together and sharing information in child protection
case (DfES, 2006). Failures to share information occur not because
someone lacks a phone number but because they do not recognise
the significance of the information; it gets distorted in the
process of communication, or the receiver discounts it as insignificant.
These are failures in professional skill, not defects in technology.
Availability of services:
15. While the emphasis of the ECM agenda is upon
providing services at an early stage in order to prevent crime
and social exclusion, there is considerable doubt about whether
agencies can actually meet the demand that is being generated.
The government has stressed the role of Health Visitors and Midwives
in spotting early indications of potential problems but earlier
this year, Amicus/CPHVA reported that the number of health visitors
in England has fallen to its lowest level in 12 years
and that there has been a 40% cut in training places. A subsequent
that health visitors are now making fewer visits to families,
and that they are losing track of vulnerable families.
16. The Royal College of Midwives reports a chronic
national shortage of midwives. It estimates that the profession
needs a further 3,000 midwives immediately, and 10,000 more by
17. There are similar shortages of social workers.
Unison reports that urgent action is needed to tackle the chronic
shortage of children's social workers: 'Almost 70% of local
authorities report difficulties recruiting children's social workers
with vacancy rates running at 12%.'
True vacancy rates are far higher than 12% - the extent of the
problem is masked by the use of temporary agency staff. In Essex,
for example, the raw vacancy rate is 28%, reduced to 13% by employment
of agency staff.
18. The problem is not only one of staffing.
Strain on council budgets is making it increasingly difficult
to obtain services resources and services. ARCH has received several
requests for help from parents who are unable to obtain basic
disability equipment or respite care for their children. In each
case the reason has been given as budget constraints. A 2006 survey
by Barnardos and Whizz-kidz found that 60% of disabled children
had unsuitable wheelchairs and many were waiting over a year for
19. In January 2007, the Commission for Social
Care Inspection reported that many councils have raised the threshold
for receiving council-funded services and 'as a result, irrespective
of the quality of social care services, fewer people are receiving
services.' The patchiness of provision for children with complex
needs, and the stress placed upon carers, is a particular cause
for concern. CSCI concludes that 'there is a pressing agenda of
change to close the gap between government policy aims and the
reality of many people's experiences.'
20. Responding to the report, the Association
of Directors of Social Services said that 'already over-stretched
budgets are at breaking point' and that 'Social care service for
elderly people, people with disabilities and children are faced
with growing need
and a dwindling amount of money with which
to fund them.'
21. Drugscope reports that government funding
for young people's drug and alcohol prevention and treatment services
across England is being cut by 10% (£6.6 million) in 2007/08,
and some services have already been told that they may receive
no funding for drug and alcohol prevention work from 2008.
22. The problems that families experience both
in obtaining assessments of Special Educational Needs and the
subsequent provision specified in SEN statements are already well
known. In last year's highly critical report, the Select Committee
on Education and Skills described the SEN system as 'demonstrably
no longer fit for purpose'.
23. Against this background of staff shortages
and under-funded services, we have to question the purpose of
ContactPoint. There is little point in investing in IT systems
to facilitate assessment of an estimated 3-4 million children's
needs if the required services are so inadequately funded or unobtainable
that they cannot even meet the need that is already known.
The cost of ContactPoint:
24. We find the business case for ContactPoint
rather puzzling. According to the DfES the costs will be offset
by savings of £88m per year in time that practitioners spend
locating details of the services that a child is using. This figure
is the annual equivalent of 20 full-time employees' salaries in
each local authority; it is difficult to believe that it is robust.
25. The Government has already awarded the contract
for construction of ContactPoint to CapGemini and set-up costs
are estimated as £224m. We doubt this figure, particularly
given the frequency of cost overruns on government IT projects.
To give just one example: in the first year of HM Revenue and
Customs' 'Aspire' programme, the cost of the 10-year contract
with Capgemini reached £539m against an estimated spend of
£385m. The total forecast cost is now £8.5bn, against
the original £2.8bn, and Capgemini's profits are expected
to rise from £300m to £1.1bn. 
26. The annual running costs of ContactPoint
are set at £41m. This amounts to around £270,000 per
local authority to cover the costs of staffing, training, system
maintenance and administration. We are concerned that the figure
of £41m is a substantial underestimate and that, worse, local
authorities may have to make up the shortfall, thus increasing
the likelihood of yet more service cuts.
Security of data:
27. ContactPoint is a national database partitioned
into local authority areas. Although the regulations will specify
the categories of practitioner to be granted access, the final
decision as to who may do so will be left to local authorities.
The government expects that around 330,000 people will have access
28. It is impossible to create a system on this
scale that is both functional and secure. The government tacitly
acknowledges this by advancing an intention that the records of
celebrity children and those who are, for example, escaping domestic
violence will not appear on ContactPoint. Nonetheless, the government
insists that the system will be secure and points to the fact
that everyone with access will undergo CRB checks; access will
be by two-factor authentication and an audit system will detect
29. Criminal record checks have limited value.
Within the education and social care sectors, increasing numbers
of staff are from overseas and it is not possible to check their
histories beyond, at most, obtaining information as to whether
they have criminal convictions. Schools are advised that:
'If attempts have been made to make checks (through
obtaining a Certificate of Good Conduct or similar) but it has
not been possible then the school is not required to take further
At best, CRB checks detect known criminals but it
is well known that paedophiles have usually committed many offences
before being caught, if they are caught at all.
30. The Criminal Records Bureau warns:
The CRB cannot currently access overseas criminal
records or other relevant information as part of its Disclosure
service. If you are to recruit people from overseas and wish to
check their overseas criminal record, a CRB Check may not provide
a complete picture of their criminal record that may or may not
31. Two-factor authentication does not protect
the system from all outside attack, particularly as ContactPoint
will be accessed via Internet protocols, nor does it prevent careless
disclosure or the unauthorised sharing of login information. Last
year The Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust reported a 'wholesale
sharing and passing on of system log-in identifications and passwords',
recording 70,000 cases of inappropriate access to systems, including
medical records, in one month.
32. An audit system does not prevent all improper
access. The Police National Computer, for example, has a substantial
audit resource and yet the Independent Police Complaints Commission
'Every year sees complaints alleging the unauthorised
disclosure of information from the Police National Computer. Forces
have reviewed their methods of preventing unlawful entry but there
will always be a few officers willing to risk their careers by
obtaining data improperly.'
33. Given the scale of what is proposed, it is
vital that ContactPoint does not go ahead until Parliament has
ensured that all of the security issues are resolved. Indeed,
consideration of the regulations will be Parliament's last opportunity
to ensure that ContactPoint does not in fact endanger children
and their families.
34. ContactPoint is not essential. The traditional
method of finding out who else knows a child is to ask the child
or parents. If professionals are competent and ensure that families
have their contact details, this system works well (unless there
are genuine child protection concerns). It also leaves control
of personal information with parents and children in accordance
with their Article 8 rights to respect for their private and family
life and freedom from unnecessary state interference.
9 Every Child Matters, HM Treasury (2003)
eGovernment Interoperability Framework: http://www.govtalk.gov.uk/
For more information about these systems, see: Children's Databases
- Safety and Privacy, A Report for the Information Commissioner,
Foundation for Information Policy Research (2006)
HM Government The Common Assessment Framework for children &
young people: Practitioners' guide (Annex A: Definitions): http://www.everychildmatters.gov.uk/_files/A19154AA073AF2F7216B25A693916CF6.pdf Back
s2 The Data Protection Act 1998
Joint Committee on Human Rights, 19th report 2003/04
'I think it's about trust': the views of young people on information
sharing. , Hilton and Mills for the Office of the Children's Commissioner
Children's Consultation on the Children's Index, Office of the
Children's Rights Director Commission for Social Care Inspection
'Children and young people talk about information sharing', Children's
Rights Alliance for England (2005) Back
Wise Up! survey of Brook clients (2005) Back
Chris Mills, Guardian Letters, June 28, 2007 http://www.guardian.co.uk/humanrights/story/0,,2113117,00.html
Health visitor numbers 'falling': http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/6388397.stm
Amicus/Community Practitioners and Health Visitors Association
press release: http://www.amicus-cphva.org/Default.aspx?page=532
NHS report reveals midwives' numbers are falling: http://www.rcm.org.uk/news/pages/newsView.php?id=287
Children in Care - UNISON Response 09/10/2006 http://www.unison.org.uk/asppresspack/pressrelease_view.asp?id=874
Essex CC Recruitment and Selection Corporate Strategy Perspective
Don't Push Me Around! Whizz-kidz/Barnardos (2006)
The State of Social Care, CSCI 2007 http://www.csci.org.uk/about_csci/press_releases/families_take_the_strain_as_co.aspx
Association of Directors of Social Services: http://www.adss.org.uk/pres/2007/csci.shtml
'Government cuts funding for young people's drug and alcohol services
Select Committee on Education and Skills Third Report 05/06 http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200506/cmselect/cmeduski/478/47803.htm
Select Committee on Public Accounts Twenty-Eighth Report 2006/07
Conclusions and Recommendations
Teachernet FAQs Q33 http://www.teachernet.gov.uk/wholeschool/familyandcommunity/childprotection/mandatorycrbchecks/recordkeeping/faqs/
Criminal Records Bureau http://www.crb.gov.uk/default.aspx?page=2243
Computer Weekly, 11th July 2006 http://www.computerweekly.com/Articles/2006/07/11/216882/nhs-trust-uncovers-password-sharing-risk-to-patient.htm
IPCC 2002 http://www.ipcc.gov.uk/half_year_report.doc Back