back to article Civil servants' pro-Labour memo reignites child data controversy

The Conservatives have called on the government to explain why supposedly impartial civil servants have intervened in a political argument over how sensitive data on children should be stored and shared. Earlier this week the Department for Children, Schools and Families wrote to local authorities to argue that Labour's plans …

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Time for change......

It is time for a new form of Government this one is broken.

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Black Helicopters

Government preying on the memory of dead children

GGGnnnnargh! They are STILL trying to justify their crappy databases with Victoria Climbie? A girl who was known to all the authorities, just they didn't prioritise her because their staff were already stretched to breaking point....

Contactpoint would not save one child, but it would make an awful lot of other goverment data initiatives a lot easier... The fact that they want to keep all children on it apart from children judged to be at risk if their data is compromised (as opposed to, what, children who would not be at risk if their data was compromised? Like who?) speaks volumes for their confidence in the integrity and security of the data.

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b
Unhappy

<sigh>

<insert rant here>

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Flame

Get 'em while they're young...

Excellent idea, this - it will save a lot of effort getting the NazionalSicherheitDatenbank up and running, as we'll be able to populate it from this inclusive and obviously not sinister source.

Thankyou for your efforts,

G. Braun, J. Schmidt und G. Hun,

Neues Arbeit.

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Anonymous Coward

Just me?

Is it just me, or is that last paragraph actually scary as hell?

It seems like a pretext for building an Office Assistant in your life.

"I see you haven't attended school today, is something wrong?"

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Stop

Do what we say, not what we (and our film star buddies) do!

Don't forget politicians' and celebs' children will not be listed. (No risk of abuse there then).

The only way to protect your own children will be to get famous. Better start practising the ukelele then.

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(Written by Reg staff)

re: <rant>

Could all commenters please take note of this handy new way to express their irate views on everything? Thanks.

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At risk?

Odd, isn't it, that every child in the country is required to be registered on this database because they are potentially at risk except for children of ministers who, strangely enough, would potentially be at risk if they were included on the database. Anyone care to explain to me how this works? Can't ministers be child abusers?

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Anonymous Coward

Government should be banned from working with kids

Looks, pedos collect data about kids right? So collecting data about kids indicates a raised probably of being a pedo. Government wants to collect data on kids so must be fill of pedos!

Ergo we must ban government from dealing with children, because I, mad woman in the Home office, can't tell causality from correlation and we need to protect the most vulnerable in society and send a strong message to someone about something.

..

Yours,

Mad woman in Home Office.

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A false dilemma

"A 'universal' system ... is much less stigmatising."

The situation here is not unlike that of the National DNA Database, where the lack of universality leads to prejudice against minorities, erosion of equality before the law and stigmatisation. There is a similar potential too for system creep.

Stigmatisation through the child database wouldn't necessarily be cured by including all children on it, as those who are vulnerable still need to be identified.

Debate over who should be on the database - all or partial - is a false dilemma. It steers attention away from the more relevant questions of whether the database is appropriate in the first instance, what data should be on it were it to be implemented, how or whether the various misuses to which such systems are prone could be prevented, and the purposes for which it should be used; and, indeed, from the more fundamental question of what the state's role should be.

If it really is appropriate for the state to intervene in the lives of "up to 50% of children", then more fundamental changes seem necessary than just setting up a database with its potential to provide more control than care for those in need.

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Anonymous Coward

@Paul Buxton

You might need to clarify your use of the word 'Minister'. Minister as in Government Ministers, or member of the clergy ministers.

The clergy only abuse choirboys and MPs only abuse the rest of the country.

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Stop

@Matthew

Ukulele? WTF? Is that supposed to be a George Fornby reference? Not that there's anything wrong with that, but WTF?

ObOnTopic: <rant>

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@Paul Buxton

'Can't ministers be child abusers?'

Where would they find the time Paul? They are too busy abusing the rest of us...

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How will this solve anything?

As I always say when someone thinks a wacking big database will solve their problems: adding more hay to the haystack does not make the needle easier to find.

Paris, 'cos you won't find her in a haystack either.

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RW
Heart

@ Sarah Bee

Dear Sarah: it's sweet of you to suggest <rant> but encouraging brainlessness is not in the best traditions of El Reg. In point of fact, amidst the humor, sarcasm, and fanboi nonsense, there's penetrating comment on the political aspects of IT and its misuse. <Rant> will tend to diminish that and discourage thoughtful comments.

So go ahead, sweetie pie, and encourage the verbal sputtering and incoherency in extenso because, as the old adage has it, sometimes dogs vomit up pearls.

I still think the Manfrommars deserves his own icon.

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Anonymous Coward

Where the hell are you getting this stuff ?

All children will be included on the database, children of the famous, politicians, everyone. Each and every child.....

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Politicians sprogs

Let's deconstruct this: 'Politicians children are not on the register'. How does this work, then? At a guess the scenario will look like this:

A. Plonker gets elected. His kids get taken off the register.

A. Plonker MP looses the next election. His kids go back on the register.

A. Plonker gives loadsa dosh to his party, gets selected for a safe seat and is re-elected. His kids get taken off the the register again.

...... and so on. Sounds bloody daft to me. There are better ways to waste money than this.

Here's one. This database should be piloted to make sure it actually scales to more than the ten Beano characters and their one or two kids per family that form the typical programmer's test data. Lets use real people so we smoke out real problems, but who can we find who we know won't object to this scheme? Got it! Lets use the kids of Nu Labour MPs and Ministers. After all, they all voted for the wheeze so they can't possibly object to being used as test subjects, can they. Need more data? Just add in their grandchildren too.

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@Sarah Bee

I suppose it would make El Reg's backups a lot smaller when compressed...

<insert rant> x 1,435,954,013

23 bytes...

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@ Paul Buxton - Can't ministers be child abusers?

Good point. What's really needed is a database storing the details of all members of government and state functionaries of all types who have been involved at every level with decisions that affect each child. Then when something goes wrong, as sadly it sometimes does, it will be possible to apportion the blame appropriately.

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Stop Kiddie Fiddling. Do it to Adults.

It occured to me that this continual proposal of building these uber databases is a little like the construction of all those monuments by various Socialist Governments throughout the previous century. As the citizens go about their permitted activities each day they are continually reminded how wise and protective their Governors are.

We watch you. We watch out for you. We watch for you.

Really makes you want to go and poke one of these Ministers in the eye in a futile effort to make them see some fucking sense, doesn't it?

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Children Missing Education

So the Civil Servants have decided that being listed on a Children Missing Education report is not sufficient to qualify as vulnerable. Curious. Surely regular absense from school is a cause for concern and hence be added to the selective database.

What details would be entered for Victoria Climbie that would arouse any suspicions?

"Had ContactPoint existed, social workers who came into contact with Victoria and had looked up her details, would have found that she was known as a child living in England and was registered with a GP."

Nothing strange there.

"She would also have been listed in a Children Missing Education report and her absence from education would have been followed up by her local authority."

Yes, a cause for concern. But it's a cause for concern now. Why does it need a central database.

Ah! I guess a central database allows for a search for exceptions. List all the children with an empty "name of school" field. Or all children with an empty "name of GP" field. At the moment it must be possible to list all people who are not registered with a GP (or at least all people with an NHS number). If you're not with a GP your medial records are stored centrally (last PHCT?). But there is no equivalent central record for school registrations.

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Anonymous Coward

Biased...

...or just coming to the wrong conclusion?

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Paris Hilton

@Martin Gregorie

It's bloody lucky then, that Mandelson is never likely to have children. Ever.

Paris, 'cos I forgot to add her icon to my last comment...

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Coat

Civil servants biased? Yawn

I don't see the Tories complaining when a civil servant leaks documents to damage the government. Surely that's as political as it gets?

Anyway, it's not as if most of the senior civil service are Tories is it? Oh...wait...

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Something going wrong? I know, let's database it.

<quote>Victoria was not assessed, by those who saw her as a child with additional needs. It is questionable whether she would have appeared on a selective system of vulnerable children.</quote>

I think the last two sentences of the DCSF ContactPoint memo highlights an underlying truth that I’m certain they (DCSF) didn’t really mean to highlight.

Let’s re-write it a bit clearer

None of our staff know what they’re doing even when the reality of the situation smacks them around the face like a wet kipper. What we need is an all encompassing database so our staff can continue as they are without the stress of having to perform the jobs they are hired to do.

This is the typical NeoLabour stance; it’s not their fault and a database of everything will fix it. They skip out the fact that it was a _lack of action on data_, already in the system, which caused this travesty and not the lack of information itself.

If I remember correctly it was the amount of casework that was one of the more significant failings.

It’s all too easy to cherry pick the easy jobs and true professionalism that treats each case with equal gravitas. A database of everything will not fix this you bunch of twats.

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Black Helicopters

NOT to be used as a manual

You think that 1984 is scary... This is what they're actually aiming for...

http://www.aclu.org/pizza/

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Think of the children! Not your sodding databases

Firstly .I would be interested to know what the `additional services´are that 50% of children are likely to need. Are that many children at risk? or so stupid they need extra schooling? or is this just another high number with no facts or statistics behind it being used in an attempt to coerce people into supporting the scheme?

Secondly. Whether or not the scheme is universal, makes no difference to making judgments or not. Every case of every child that comes to the attention of authorities, must be judged, if nobody makes a judgment of some kind then nothing further can be done! Think about it!

Each time an occurence is examined a valued judgment must be made and consequently a decision will follow, to go further or notify other departments etc. The only alternative is to write the social workers equivalent of a stockbrokers dealing algorithm and shove that into the system.

When a child comes to the notice of any one involved with the DCSF and is considered at risk , surely there is a contact list of all the other relevant depts, hit the `check all´ and send an email `anything known about this child?´ , how difficult is that?

The first comment is absolutely right , we do need a new form of government, this dumbocracy stuff doesn't work at all.

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What is the Matrix?

I don't know whether this morbid fear of death comes from inside the New Labour camp itself, or whether New Labour believes we are all living in permanent fear of our imminent demise (following Hitler's belief that "Terrorism is the best political weapon for nothing drives people harder than a fear of sudden death".) but either way I'm getting sick of the 'this will save lives' argument for taking away our freedoms.

What Labour don't seem to understand is that taken to its logical conclusion, this line of reasoning tells us that the only acceptable way of living is be to be strapped into a life support mechanism and live our lives out entirely in government controlled virtual reality.

Being a real person who is part of a real society entails living with risk – be it the risk of a dangerous driver, a religious nutter with a bomb or abusive parents. Yes, we have to try to stop these bad things happening, but not to the point that the lives of the British people become those of soulless automata.

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Silver badge

#include "rant.h"

As anyone and his dog can do HTML but only the warped can handle preprocessor directives...

It's wrong to legislate for the majority of people based on one or two improbably edge cases, which is what we're trying to do here. It glosses over the fact that it wasn't a lack of information that caused the death of a child, it was lack of resources and departmental incompetence.

Imagine if we tried to prevent traffic accidents by reducing speed limits to 30mph, and when that didn't result in zero occurrences, dropping it to 20mph and eventually abolishing road transport. Then, shock horror, someone might trip over while walking...

As for not being registered at a school as grounds for concern, what about all the children who are home educated perfectly well and often to a higher standard than the school system allows. Certainly some children may be at risk under such circumstances, but how many children attend school and are also at risk but wouldn't show up as such on a database?

It's not politically correct, but freedom has a price. Victoria Climbie was unfortunately one of those who paid the price for our freedom. Many more children and adults paid with their lives in WW2 in the hope that we'd be free. Once we refuse to accept occasional casualties we've lost our freedom because we'll all be regulated and monitored and forbidden to do anything.

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Black Helicopters

..managed not represented

Whilst not being a fan of Tony Benn's politics, he was right to say we're being managed rather than represented.

The nature of the relationship between school and parents used to be one of trust that didn't involve a third of a million civil servants, assorted charity volunteers and political pressure groups such as the NSPCC. Neither did it involve an insecure database developed in part by the firm who recently lost the data on all the prisoners in the country.

The net effect of this system is that every parent is effectively a suspect, recorded on a database very much in the style of the sex offenders register.

About six years ago I tripped on the stairs (it was dark, one of the kids had left a toy on the step) whilst carrying my 18 month old son. He fell down the stairs, I fell backwards. He made a hell of a lot of noise, but we took him to casualty as a precaution. They were great - no harm done. In the current climate I wonder what would happen. Would I be flagged up on ContactPoint as a potential child abuser? Would I think twice about taking him in the first place?

I wonder how many people will be reluctant to take their kids to the doctors, talk to school, provide their contact details to school etc. under the present system.

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200607/ldselect/ldmerit/146/14620.htm

In short, a dogs breakfast, a privacy nightmare and a bloody outrage. Never mind though, nanny knows best.

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Anonymous Coward

Will Contactpoint increase risks to children - and their families?

PDS - the Personal Demographics Service used to locate patients in the NHS - has a little known provision to prevent contact details - address, phone number, GP - being displayed if a patient wishes to label him or herself as "sensitive", thus extending the automatic protection given to politicians to directors of Huntington Life Sciences and people trying to avoid honour killings or violent ex-partners for example.

There will be no such protection , AFAIAA, extended under Contactpoint.

There is only one means of defence if you're at risk - get rid of the children now, before its too late!

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gosub

gosub rant(antidatabase as string)

I am sorry basic is the only language I know

(don't look at me I am hidous)

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Anonymous Coward

@Michael

No, you wouldn't be, that's not really how it works. (I can speak from some degree of experience being involved tangentially with the project at a local authority level)

The idea is that it would record the contact various services have with a child. Individual services would still investigate where needed, but the idea of ContactPoint would be to build up a picture of the various contacts.

In the Climbié case, various agencies had their own concerns but these were not shared. ContactPoint would allow the involved caseworkers (and only those with a definite need to know) who had been professionally involved with this child and when. That's really all it does. Caseworkers then know who to phone up in other agencies to speak to directly. It facilitates inter-departmental and inter-agency communication basically.

If in doubt you're always welcome to submit an FOI request.

Anyway, I still think the project's a bit crap.

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"A 'universal' system ... is much less stigmatising."

Clearly this is a philosophy dear to the heart of NotLab. They could ( and appear to) apply it in broadly the same way to the machinery of the war on terror/crime/drugs - by assuming we're all guilty, no one demographic gets stigmatised. Hence the line from the filth while feeing my collar for photographing water; "we can't make assumptions about who is and isn't a terrorist". Indeed.

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Anonymous Coward

Let's get back on topic here

The signifcance of this story is not about the argument between labour and the oposition over how this system should work. It's much more significant than that.

The civil service are not allowed to take sides in party policical discussion. It appears in this case that they have done. The really significant question, are the civil service involving themselves in party politics? If they are then civil service heads MUST roll. Were civil servants pressured into sending the memo by politicians? If so then both governmental and civil service heads must roll? Or is there a third possibility; was the memo sent by a politico posing as a civil servant? In this case questions would need to be asked of the government at the highest levels. There could be no justification for this and it would indicate a government that is totally corrupt.

Hopefully it is the case that a lone civil servant expressed his/her politcal sympathies. Unfortunately whatever the reality, I think that this is the way it will be portrayed after government enquiries. No doubt a civil servant will resign and then quietly be given a new job elsewhere in the service after a "decent interval" (usually about two weeks).

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@AC 15:21

>All children will be included on the database, children of the famous, politicians, everyone. Each and every child.....<

Ermmm, no. There is a security get-out clause that allows politicians and rich and famous people to be ommitted. This is in case the fabulously secure system is, errr compromised.

And it doesn't extend to Scotland, AFAIK.

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Flame

<rant>

"Imagine if we tried to prevent traffic accidents by reducing speed limits to 30mph, and when that didn't result in zero occurrences, dropping it to 20mph and eventually abolishing road transport. Then, shock horror, someone might trip over while walking..."

This is exactly where BRAKE and the like want to lead us. Morons.

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Coat

@Michael

Function, not Sub. Lather, rinse and repeat as required.

>Dim subject as string

>subject = "antidatabase"

>Call rant (subject)

That is all.

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Black Helicopters

How much money do you need to be classed as 'Rich'

By ElFatbob

"Ermmm, no. There is a security get-out clause that allows politicians and rich and famous people to be ommitted. This is in case the fabulously secure system is, errr compromised."

or how well known to be classed as 'Famous'??

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Blame the database

Bad data on expensive database,

I don't think anyone will argue that the accuracy of databases which can have many '000's of public officials editing the records is c**p at best.

Horrible things happen,

either public authorities don't react, or over react when parents have questioned said public authorities.

Kids suffer,

Tax payers suffer, public authorities say not their fault, data commissioner hasn't the resources to investigate.

Definition of a lose lose situation.

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Touching base with the database bullshitters.

<incoherent rant, don't bother> Does that cover it, Sarah?

Leave aside the petty party-political squabbling and what you are left with is another abysmal failure of Nulabour to apply the principles of targeted resourcing and problem solving. If the problem is a minority of children who are especially vulnerable or at risk then you need to know who they are, where they are, who their carers are, who has access to them, and other relevant factors concerning their welfare. All this information needs to be stored on a secure dynamic database that will ensure regular forced logins by social workers and other agencies to update and check the status of those in their care. Resource it and do it.

But no, NuLabour see this as an "opportunity" to expand, dilute and weaken by including the whole population of children on the off chance that they may be able to identify potential criminals or teenage terrorists. Another victory for the deluded database warriors and a resounding defeat for those who are trying to protect the most vulnerable in our society.Open up the mesh size, cast the net wider and let the little fish swim with the sharks in the ocean.

I swear that if these plonkers ever tried to emulate JFK's plan to put a man on the moon within 10 years, their mission statement would include a requirement that the astronauts navigate their course via an 8 light-year round trip to Alpha Centauri.

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@Stop Kiddie Fiddling. Do it to Adults

I don't think that goes quite far enough MP fucktards and Ministers should be held accountable in law and not immune to prosecution. I can understand 'Guy Fawkes' wanting to give them a speedy send off.

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Bronze badge

@Jimmy

"Leave aside the petty party-political squabbling"

The party political squabbling and the civil service's involvent in it is far from petty. It is hugely significant and cuts right to the core of the way government is supposed to work. I matters not whether the memo was about childrens' data, speed cameras or the subsidy on the house of commons canteen the fact is that it appears that the civil service have involved themselves in party political debate. It is absolutely essential to the operation of government in this country that civil servants are seen to be impartial. If you can't see the import of this then you worry me deeply.

Note that I said "seen to be impartial". Civil servants are entitled to politcal opinions. They cannot, however, allow these opinions to enter into their work.

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@ Gareth Jones

I share your nostalgic hankering after the days when the British Civil Service was world renowned for its impartiality and high standards of probity. Although to be honest, even in those halcyon days the 'Sir Humphrey' effect allowed highly placed officials to influence political outcomes in favour of their own views.

The New Labour revolution of 1997 changed all that when unelected 'policy advisers' were parachuted in and civil servants were made answerable to them. A whole new culture of bullying, browbeating and 'my way or the highway' emerged in which civil servants were made aware that impartial advice was not welcome if it conflicted with New Labour theology.

Join me in another swig of the Kool Aid, Gareth, we're all fucked now.

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Anonymous Coward

Why the uproar? This database is a GREAT idea. The best ever.

Clearly, the best way to protect children is to have a massive central database, collect every scrap of information about them ever, and allow anyone who comes close to them complete access to it.

There is no possible way it could go wrong, and it is certainly rare for people around or in charge of children such as teachers, priests etc to ever do anything bad to children. Therefore the fact that basically anyone has access to such a huge amount of very personal and mostly irrelevant information is not a big deal. In fact it's totally the best way to look out for children's safey compared to say.... giving out as little info as possible.

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