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back to article How the gov's child protection database fails to add up

A day after yet another case of a child brutalised in its own home, despite massive intervention from a range of support services, hits the headlines, The Register takes a closer look at what the government has led the public to believe in respect of the ContactPoint database. One "fact" that has been repeated ad nauseam by …

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More admin, less actual work

One thing all these technological solutions do is actually increase the amount of admin whilst cutting down on the actual work necessary. Just heard on BBC breakfast from one guest who stated that social workers are spending 80% of their time at the keyboard rather than in the field. And so on this case social workers will end up tied to the computer for longer checking and updating the records rather than visiting the children. You don't find child abuse by reading computer records, you find it by seeing the child. Also, in both cases (Victoria and baby P) the processes were probably fine, it was the staff who weren't. I'm not saying that they are incompetent, but their work load doesn't allow them to take investigate problems, nor are they typically given any responsiblity to make decisions. Fix the attitudes of the managers and a lot of the problems will disappear.

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Stop

Never lose notebook data ever again...

Type your comment here — plain text only, no HTML

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Stop

Teacher figures look too low

At the risk of repetition of my comment in the other article those teacher figures look way too low to me. For at least primary schools I'd imagine that practically all class teachers (ie practically all teachers) would need access to the database. My wife is a simple primary school teacher and it is her who has to fill in reports for and attend inter service meetings between social services and medical staff etc. It is her that needs to keep an eye on that "at risk (of abuse)" children as she is the person most likely to see problems and most likely to get the blame if she accepts the "I fell over" story not knowing that they were at risk. Obviously the senior management team also take part in this sort of stuff and so would need access to.

At secondary school it might not need to be all teachers, just the senior management team, all head of years and form tutors, though I'd imagine that in many secondary schools this again is probably likely to be most of the teachers.

Then there are the 'senior' office staff preparing reports, tracking attendance, the heads are likely to want them to have access rather than having to do that work themselves. That or 'lend' their access details ignoring the security issues which are just getting in the way.

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Unhappy

unsurprising...

... if Civil Servants were to significantly underestimate usage. After all, the higher echelon of the CS is hardly populated with computer-literate staff, and in many of them are very unlikely to understand how computer systems access proliferates even in the best controlled environment.

And what level of detail is held? To effect 'child protection' it presumably has to include medical details, location, school, parents, siblings, food allergies, details of any abuse etc. That's a lot of sensitive data.

Add in the political angle - a million people equals one in 40 adults with access to the database - and there's a clear need to downplay.... I mean, every time you board a bus, the chances are someone on the bus has access to your kids details. Hmm.

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Does anyone seriously believe the gub'ment any more?

Lying wankers. Can't trust any of them to not stretch the truth.

Yah baby, I'm clean and had my vas cut.

Yah, it's really (make up your own number).

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It doesn't

..matter whom has access to it, a bungling IT Contractor will outsource it/put it on a USB/laptop/mobile and lose it. Then we can all access it on BotTorrent/eBay/iTunes/whatever.

They should just look at the flip side and say "how can this information be misused?" and then limit usage accordingly.

*Sigh*

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Anonymous Coward

It's pointless.

They actually knew this kid was in danger, having a database to help them wouldn't help.

The reality is that if some social worker, hating men like they do, encountered a dad who'd managed to get custody in spite of what they tried to fit him up with and showed some SS employee their baby with serious injuries, they'd be in jail, and the kid would be in care, but if a mother does it, they believe everything she says, and try to get more and more resources.

The problem is that social workers have arbitrarily picked genital type as the means by which they relate to child killers. The parent can be tall, short, rich, poor, black, white, protestant, catholic, placid, violent, or anything else, and they'll find that irrelevant and consider only the baby's welfare, but if you share the same type of genitals as a social worker, she'll think you're a victim, who is just unlucky.

This is why a database is a waste of money. They know who the kids in danger are, but they're just incapable of believing mothers can do that.

Not a single social worker has been sacked.

I therefore propose a questionnaire for new employees.

Q1. Define the difference between "helping" and "feeling like you've helped"

Q2. Define "abject failure", "avoiding responsibility."

Q3. Being a social worker involves tough choices. So imagine you're in Africa with limited food. do you,

a. let 20% of the kids die to feed the others.

b. let 10% of the kids die to feed the others.

c. let 5% of the kids die to feed the others.

d. completely cease to operate when faced with this choice, you're a liberal thinker and can't make unfair or distasteful conclusions, so the only option is to have a breakdown, and fall to pieces until a man, or the police, or a government bails your useless arse out, but then reserve the right to criticise how they solved your problem, and demand equal pay for it, which is a perfectly acceptable position to take.

Q4. A system you have devised has failed, no matter how many resources you've thrown at it. Do you,

a. Throw more resources at it, and get press reporting banned.

b. Throw even more resources at it.

c. Throw even more resources at it.

d. All of the above.

e. Form a collective.

f. Acknowledge that the taxi driver was right after all.

Q5. Explain how a steam engine works, and the IDE bus, and a fridge.

Q6. If someone didn't have a clue how one of the simplest inventions ever invented works, should they really be trusted with looking after children? Discuss.

Q7. When a taxi driver says "I was belted and it did me no harm." invoke liberal socialist logic to demonstrate that his view that physical punishment works as proof that he is harmed, despite him believing it not to be the case.

Q8. Explain why, if a mother really, really, really loves her children, then everything will be alright. Include references to Harriet Harman's Hansard comments.

Q9. Contrast and compare Tiger Woods, Lewis Hamilton and the accused in the Damilola case, to show that under the influence of their dads, Tiger and Lewis may be financially successful, but they're losers in life, whereas in the absence of their dads, the accused in the Damilola case were infinitely more successful, in their own way. Explain why baby P, in the absence of his father, will go on to achieve all that Tiger or Lewis could have, despite being dead.

Q10. A person holds the belief that police should be prosecuted for shooting shotgun firing lunatics on the Kings Road, Russell Brand should be sacked for upsetting someone, and Paul Gascoine sacked for slapping his woman, but overseeing the death of a baby despite having seen him sixty times, is not a failure and should be without consequence. Explain why this belief is perfectly reasonable in the context of Harringay SS department.

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Once we get past about 50 having access, the actual number no longer matters

Anyone doing serious security needs to factor in a 1% risk PER PERSON of security breach by "professional trained security aware" staff in any given year. Thus with 100 properly trained staff you are typically going to get one breach a year.

With 1000 having access, you'll get 10 a year and so on.

With 330,000 we can guarantee approximately 10 a day and that's if they're "professional trained security aware" staff. At a million we're up to 30 breaches a day.

In fact though, probably less than 1000 of that million will be "professional trained security aware" staff, so it is reasonable to scale up the breach rate by a factor of 5 to 10.

So it really doesn't matter. Once you give more than about 50 "professional trained security aware" staff access, regular breaches are inevitable. Under no circumstances can such a database be described as secure...

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Why not just...

Treat this like software obtained on license from a vendor: ie they estimate needing 330,000 licenses, so you let them have that many, and if they need more access, well.. too bad.. should have made their estimate more accurate in the first place.

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The Purpose of ContactPoint

It's not to prevent abuse, it's so that they've got a full list of people that will need ID cards as they become adults. It's been shown that even with the information there's still enough incompetence in the system for abuse to continue unchecked.

Personally I'd like to see it a requirement in law that every time there's access to a particular entry, the system should automatically generate a letter to the parent/guardian informing them that it's happened. Those with something to worry about might be put off by the volume of junk mail, and the rest of us will see who's snooping. Also, charge local authorities £10/subject access to discourage trivial queries. Data losses can then be charged the same way, so if you lose a CD with 10,000 records, you've just cost your local taxpayers £100,000.

Better still, abolish it as soon as possible after the next election. I call on David Cameron to have a draft bill ready for immediate passage through parliament requiring the dismantling of this and other intrusive, useless and expensive measures.

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@AC 13:54 GMT

And for you to try out:

Q1. Should knowing nothing about social work or social workers prevent a very long ill informed post?

a. No, a collection of stereotypes and prejudices gathered from the tabloids is a fine substitute for knowledge.

b. See above.

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Stop

Why...

...do they need giving access to this database to that many people? Doctors, teachers, social workers et al. should only have a mean to report ANY abuse incident, including any kind of injuries to children . Provide them with a standard report form, which includes all the relevant data (old and new injuries, physical description, supposed name and name of the parents, symptoms, etc.) and use an expert system + database (accessible only to a few people) to request more data, and/or send just the necessary information (i.e. photographs and radiographies ) to the involved parties, and alert one of those few people with access to the database, to check the details and contact the authorities if needed.

If they do it right (sigh...) they would need just a few people with access to this database to make the system work. Having less people with access to the database would allow to make some prior screening before giving them unlimited access to -probably- most British children's personal data.

I guess that a system like this would be easier to design and maintain -and less expensive - than this behemoth database with free access for everybody and their brother your government is developing.

My 0,02 €

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Pirate

I never used to think of a database as evil

But the UK government has made this concept a fine (black) art indeed.

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Black Helicopters

And of course the data will be 100%accurate

http://uk.news.yahoo.com/21/20081113/tuk-criminal-records-check-errors-6323e80.html

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Happy

Paedos dream tool

As a paedo agent finding just the right child is quite chalenging. For a start most children are not valnerable. And then there is the clients particular perv. With access to this database I will be able to line up the right child for the right paedo and collect quite a large fee.

My only real worry is that I won't be alone doing this with 1 million others having access the chances are that I will have competition. Heck, if it's really loose the clients will be able to look up children themselves. It could kill my business. Every threat is an opportunity is what my DTI busiess link adviser says.

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@ Matt Eagles

Hear hear. An attack on the kool-aid-guzzling stupidity of ContactPoint shouldn't equate to joining in the tabloid jihad against social workers (the vast majority of whom are hard-working, diligent, undervalued and underpaid to do a complex, thankless, endlessly difficult, under-resourced job that would make most of us break down in a fortnight).

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Obfuscation, again.

When, if ever, will the council of Hackney admit that they are in error. When, if ever, will those in charge admit that they have made a mistake. Whenm, if ever, will the government step in to avoid any further obscene events like the two, admitted to by Hackney. When, if ever, will anyone be held responsible for such heinous crimes against those whom they are pledged to protect, allegedly. How soon can we expect any action to be taken? All I can say is "do not try holding your breath".

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Anonymous Coward

@ Matt Eagles

Q: Is Matt Eagles a professional social worker?

A: Modesty or embarrassment prevents him from saying.

Q: Can we look forward to a very long, well-informed post from Matt?

A: No.

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Anonymous Coward

@@AC 13:54 GMT - It gets worse.

"Q1. Should knowing nothing about social work or social workers prevent a very long ill informed post?"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord_Laming

And then Lord Laming is called in. It's not long since this man got his underlings to break into a house in the middle of the night in Hertfordshire, to "Rescue a girl" whose father had reported to social services that she'd alleged her mother's new partner was touching her up.

Naturally social services workers thoroughly investigated the incident, by allowing her mother to come in and interfere with the social services interview, and then, with what we shall never know may have been external pressure, the daughter rescinded the allegations in her mother's presence.

After the social workers police raided the father's house in the middle of the night, and sent her back to the house containing the man she was so frightened of, the Lord Laming in question then denied the father access to the internal report which was so damning, that the LGO, criticised Lord Laming to the maximum capacity it was able to. This alone renders him unfit for public office, let alone in the House of Lords.

And before you start, we all know social workers, they were the girls at Uni doing the academically bankrupt degree courses. I remember one in particular, your classic lesbian feminist with a chip on her shoulder. The last time I saw her, she'd just had a nervous breakdown because her lover left. This curiously didn't stop her from being eligible to work.

Since you know so much more than me, I'd be delighted to know why it was, that the head of the department was able to conduct the inquiry of the child P's death.

I'd also like to know statistics of social services responses to find a child covered in bruises in sole father's custody (if any have survived being fitted up,) compared to that of mothers. There was a father, he reported the child screaming at the prospect of being returned.

Can you imagine the situation reversed? No, I can't either.

Your assumption about being ill informed would be laughable were it not for the Gaussian distribution which dictates that for every child who dies like this, there are thousands of children suffering almost as badly, because social workers, disposed against men (try visiting a family court,) and with an affinity to single mothers, choose to consider their job as "Supporting the oppressed women" rather than "Protecting children." Please point me to the comprehensive study that counters my life experience that liberal minded women can separate their feelings and actions.

Perhaps, since you know so much about social work, you can point me to the relevant independent body, that oversees the Social services departments, and ensures that the organisations across the country aren't overran by women with chips on their shoulders.

Perhaps you can point me to the statistics of how many women have had their children's custody transferred to the father because the mother can't cope.

Or, and you'll excuse my ignorance, _is_ concentrating on "shoring up the mother's choices" in such instances, deemed to be identical as "protecting the child?" If so, perhaps you can point me to the statistics on social services helping men get out of crime, so they can assume 50% custody which is surely the opposite case.

Perhaps you could even point to the body that check the head of departments' own internal inquiry, to ensure it's accountability, before the furore about the murderers hit the press.

Feel free to post links to any of this information, any time. Or you can just criticise an assertion and provide no counter argument.

Feel free anytime to point to the statistics on numbers of social workers sacked for failure, and/or resignations by social workers who considered themselves accountable for their actions.

Aside from one man who resigned in Scotland who resigned because social workers in his department oversaw the rape and torture a girl with learning difficulties, having chosen to ignore all the evidence, I can see no instance anywhere of a social worker resigning for any reason.

Feel free to point to the instances where social workers have resigned for any reason at all apart from this borders incident.

Lord Laming obviously didn't think his actions bad at all, as he would have refused a peerage out of embarrassment would he not ?

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Haingey

http://www.haringey.gov.uk/index/news_and_events/latest_news/childa.htm

Why did the council conduct their own enquiry? They had to!

"As required by chapter 8 of the government’s statutory guidance Working Together to Safeguard Children 2006 Haringey’s Local Safeguarding Children Board immediately initiated a serious case review and on 06.08.07 formally notified OfSTED (the relevant regulatory government

authority) of that decision. "

And here's the government's site on ContactPoint:

http://www.everychildmatters.gov.uk/deliveringservices/contactpoint/

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Stop

invetigate their own screwups?

the majority of social workers are surely good caring people, but they are clearly hampered by bureaucratic fools.

and it is DEFINITELY UNACCEPTABLE for a department to head an investigation of this importance on it's own failures. how on earth can we believe them when they are inevitably fount to be not at fault.

and this child database has never been about protecting children.

it has always only been about collecting every bit of data on everyone, starting from birth.

as said in previous comment, children do grow into adults (and potential terrrrrrrists like the rest of us 'common folk'). and as such will need constant surveillance and tracking.

innit?

soon the new hi-res cctv will be recognizing your biometrics and will be following your every move.

mwahahahahahaaaaaaa

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Anonymous Coward

Review of Data Fields Being Stored in the ContactPoint Database

I have just completed a quick review of the fields of data in the XML files used to upload data into the ContactPoint database.

The database contains little more than contact details for professionals involved in the welfare of children.

There is no case history information for the children. There is no facility for professionals to upload observations they have made to raise concerns that a child may be subjected to abuse.

With so many organisations, people responsible for the welfare of a child, from the GP to the doctors and nursing staff in hospitals ( Accident and Emergency departments), social workers and teachers, all of which may see brusing on a child and question them on how they received those bruises, there is no way for these disparate professionals to share information.

I thought the database would be about improving communication between professionals, about enabling, for example, a teacher that had concerns about a child, having seen some bruises, being able to post a concern on to the database, and if over time, other professionals, such as social workers and doctors that have contact with the same child, if they made observations and had concerns, these would be uploaded too, enabling a social worker to see a pattern, and then deciding on what action to take: more investigations, meetings with the parents etc. But this is not what the database is about.

Arguably, there is some merit in having a gloried contact address book, as it would enable a professional to find out the contact information of other professionals with reponsibility for the child but that's really all the ContactPoint Database is.

My analysis is looking only at the data that is held on the child, as we all know, there is much more to this whole thing than just the database holding the data, it's how the data will be used and who will have access to it that is also crucially important.

And why does every single child need to be held on the database, even if they are not at risk?

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Anonymous Coward

My old dear

When my old dear used to be a registrar she used to have this remarkable device that kepts all the numbers and names of all the people that were involved with her patients (or if she were working for an association at the time - clients). She could keep this magical implement upto date by employing a radical piece of engineering known as "talking" to the patient, and the patients GP. That magical device was called a fileafax, and the mystical engineering she used was called the phone, which she used to phone people and build relationships. The other magical technology she used was called face to face meetings and house visits, where she would listen to what the patient/resident/client would say and take note, not tick boxes.

Sadly sometimes she had to talk to the social workers, which was often a pain in the ass as they had to fill in some form or another, spin around, and then give some university driven mumbo jumbo. Generally if she wanted results she spoke to people of use, nurses, care workers, doctors, shock horror the patients themselves, housing managers, and if needs must (and these were deseperate times) Nigel the f---ing social worker. Although Nigel always had an opinion.

Of course child care is different, they have little choice but to rely on Social Workers, but at least the population tends to care about babies, they don't give a s--- about mentally ill adults or the people that take care of them.

The main problem with today is all the best health care workers are leaving the care industry becouse of its fasination with form filling and it's back breaking beurocracy, soon there'll be nothing left but apathetic social workers and underpaid care assistants.

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Anonymous Coward

The Future of ContactPoint

I do have a major concern about ContactPoint. In years to come, there will be a record on the DB of every single person in the country (just about).

What will happen to the records when the children hit 18 years old? Deleted? Yes, they'll be deleted from the database, but who wants to bet they won't be archived indefinitely?, or transferred somewhere else such as another secretive government agency.

George Orwell eat your heart out.

It's pretty obvious what will happen, even if the ministers today bleat on that it won't. It sure as hell will.

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Anonymous Coward

One Million People

The idea that one million people will have access to the data is not a complete statement of the situation.

The figure is quite possibly valid and is reasonable to quote this figure if you want to highlight the chance that the higher the number of people accessing the data, the greater is the chance for abuse.

From the technical document I've seen pertaining to the XML data definition for data upload to the database, there does appear to be some level of access control, quite whether it's sufficient I can not say from the limited information I have, but for one child record, it's not going to be the case that 1 million people will have access to it.

The statement "One million people will have access to information on your child" is false.

The statement "One million people will have access to the database", may be true.

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@RotaCyclic

"The statement "One million people will have access to information on your child" is false."

Nope, it's not provably true.

You already said that you don't know if they are even USING the access control. So you can't say that the statement is false.

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