back to article UK.gov finally kills ContactPoint

So, farewell then, ContactPoint, the database we never quite came to love. In the end, it was victim to straitened economic circumstances and lacking the courage of its own convictions. According to a Department for Education announcement on 6 August, it was due to be taken to meet its cyber-maker at noon on 6 August. A …

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FAIL

Did it (would it) save *any* lives

The impression was that was what it was *supposed* to do, given Victoria Climbie was one of its initial justifications.

Let us just hope the *next* time someone gets the idea that some super-duper database is the answer the crisis de jour someone throws something (preferably something quite hard) at their head.

Let me write the *next* dead kid "Serious Case Review"

"There was a systemic failure by agencies to share information..."

"XXXX's death was preventable"

"Lessons have been learned"

And a few things that probably won't make it in.

"The social workers were more concerned about the effect a complaint would have on their career than weather the child was still alive."

"Making sure the paperwork looked right was *far* more important than actually checking on the well being of the child"

"Initial assessments are time consuming to do properly, although it is critical to deciding in how a case is handled. Still mostly no hard done."

"The threatening and aggressive behavior of the parents/relatives/family friends strongly suggested they had something to hide. But I was *really* scared of them."

I'm not sure what the definition of a "Serious Case Review" is given the average 7-10 deaths a week on the UK At-risk register. In principle shouldn't *all of them have one? I suspect it's along the line of "It made the TV news, we'd better look like we're doing something."

I won't mourn its passing. It *always* seemed to be more about a clean load for the NIR of the National ID card system and PNC II (fivein that the Police were to have access and record were to held till the "child" was 25).

Data bases don't save lives. Paid child protection and child welfare specialists doing their *job* should do that.

It seems to me that quite a few of them are not up to the task, and their managers are not up to the task of improving them, or getting rid of them.

Fail not so much for the DB, but the children who the *whole* system has systematically failed to the point of death, literally "Acceptable losses."

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victoria climbie

Contact point ( and the rest of the Every Child matters agenda) was/is constantly presented as having been developed as a result of the the Laming report (published on 28 January 2003) on the death of Victoria Climbié.

This is untrue and a disgusting exploitation of her death.

Privacy and data-sharing: the way forward for public services – a performance and innovation report dated 2002 – was published by the Blair UK Government and set out (among other intended reforms) changes to children’s services which the public and professionals were led to believe were being instigated as a result of the Laming report.

http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/media/cabinetoffice/strategy/assets/piu%20data.pdf

In turn, all these policies are part of the European e-government agenda which emerged from Lisbon in 2000.

http://www.epractice.eu/en/news/283629

in Scotland we have had our own version of this and now have an SNP administration administering Blairite EU tosh so beware of the Condems refering to "prize-winning" policy from Scotland:

This Times article from 2003 - ID card scheme for babies to help prevent child abuse - is where we were...

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/scotland/article1111199.ece

This is where we are...

Getting it right for every child - gathering information for every citizen

http://www.forhighlandschildren.org/htm/girfec/gir-publications/phnr-separate-forms&guidance-aug09/phnr-contents-list.pdf

eCare - frame 17 speaks for itself

http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/Doc/924/0009673.pdf

NIR , ID card (eCare is lined to our entitlement card) , PNC all in one :(

This agenda - which if not halted will lead to tragic consequences which are opposed to its alleged aims ie individual and family privacy will be destroyed , children will be damaged, valuable resources will be squandered, those at real risk will not get the help they so desperately need.

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Good.

Contactpoint was created with the best of intentions... As many truly terrible things are. I for one won't mourn its passing - I will however want to see evidence that it really has been destroyed.

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don't go to town on a system before you know what you want

This is a classic and expensive failure. Private contractors should not be expensively involved in such developments prior to wider policy agreement on what the specifications should be. Clearly some incompetent civil servants are not up to their job due to lack of systems awareness skills. Or maybe these failures are down to private ambition and inter-departmental back stabbing. Who knows ?

If you are developing public architecture you have an open competition and you have design proposers make and throw away a few cardboard models before choosing the one you want to spend real money on. That should cost much less than 5% of your total design and build budget. And I don't see why a similar approach can't be adopted in relation to computer systems.

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Unhappy

Database design

It seems to me that those who design government databases haven't got a clue how to grant different access privileges to different roles. It's an 'all or nothing' approach with either 300,000 people granted full access to every row and column of the DB or just a few granted that same full access and no one else getting any access at all. Don't they know that different levels of access can be granted to different users according to that user's specific/permitted needs?

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Paris Hilton

Database design

From the very first day of ContactPoint's announcement the press has continually claimed that 300k people would have full access and this simply isn't true. It never was. Access was always going to be restricted by role, so for example, a GP would only be able to access the contact details for children registered with that GP.

I can understand where you are coming from but I suggest you address your complaint to El Reg and ask why they (and all the other IT trade press) have never reported the detail of this story accurately.

/Paris because her contact details would have been more secure on ContactPoint

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Garlic, crucifix, stakes

Given that the promise of predicting criminality had been associated with Contactpoint, it's not impossible that there will be attempts to resuscitate parts of the system.

Though Deloitte & Touche's RYOGENS had perhaps the most emotive name, 'Risk of Youth Offending - Generic Solution', it wasn't the only program being developed under the guise of child protection to identify those best suited to become members of the criminal underclass.

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Unhappy

Spotted the typo

"Over a quarter of a billion pounds of public money has been dispensed on a non-project", should read quarter of a million pounds.

Shouldn't it?

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Re: Why so many and why so much?

"Over a quarter of a billion pounds of public money has been dispensed on a non-project", should read quarter of a million pounds.

Shouldn't it?"

Read it again.

230 million quid + decommissioning is mentioned.

Obviously a Mercan billion though.

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The End

Goodbye, ContactPoint, you will not be missed.

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Anonymous Coward

A single tear.

And much rejoicing.

Anyway. There's still the problem of a large heap of "child protection professionals" who apparently aren't fit to talk to each other. So, while they're busy "thinking of the children", we'd best busy ourselves thinking what to do with them.

Since the government clearly has a problem managing the whole bunch, it's time it stopped trying to paper over that fact by liberal application of overly intrusive and expensive "IT" projects, databases, whatnot. That's like trying to run a country by selling out to hp and IBM.

The problem is a people problem. Technology may help, but cannot solve that on its own, and certainly not without understanding the problem first. Except by accident, and it's too expensive for that. So, what do we do about our government's failure to fix its own failures? How do we organise all these "professionals" such that there are fewer cracks for unfortunate kids to fall through?

Of course I shouldn't ask this of el reg commentards. We need management and organisation experts. But most of them aren't very professional either, and often too woolly-socked to manage the hard decisions that indubitably come up, perhaps more so than elsewhere. And then there's the political meddling....

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FAIL

I did some work developing an early version of Contactpoint

... and it was abandoned in favour of an MS SQL database and an SQL develoer who was aid to tye in SQL statements whenever they felt the need to query the system.

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Anonymous Coward

Sounds plausible

I have to say for the expected size of the db I thought the last paragraph's mention of 'the mainframe' was probably a bit optimistic!

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Next the ID Card booths in Post OFfices

At least a few of the election promises are being kept.

Next, HM Gov. Can we get rid of them ASAP. Please. I know you have announced that ID Cards are for the chop but these monstrosities are a very pulbic reminder of this lunatic scheme.

Another mega database with massive feature creep.

Another massive waste of public money.

Thumbs up for Contact Point. Carry on.

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Paris Hilton

Sounds like ...

A top-down initiative poorly delivered and not missed in the passing thereof.

UK (un)civil servantry strikes and wins again?

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Now end the secrecy!

The scandal of social workers stealing children on heresay needs to be brought into the light. Hopefully this is the start!

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Black Helicopters

Re: Now end the secrecy!

It needs to be, but the problem is far more entrenched, and has much more legal protection. Firstly we need to separate "legal" from "right" (as in the morally correct thing to do). In the meantime don't hold your breath.

Warning to anyone thinking of publishing individual stories, DON'T unless you have clearance from your lawyer. With very few exceptions, it is illegal to say THAT it happened, let alone WHAT happened.

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Why so many and why so much?

Why did this system have to record all children in the UK to identify those recorded as being at risk? I read elsewhere that 1 in 10 potentially are exposed to some form of risk (unproven).

Why did it cost £230 Million to develop a basic system to store names and addresses plus the pdf's of case files? Or did some idiot decide to try and encode all possible abuse situations?

It sounds like some consultants made bucket loads of easy money! It is about time the UK Civil Service developed a proper cadre of experienced professionally qualified ICT personnel empowered to manage these projects rather than just handing the cheque book over to external consultants.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Why so many and why so much?

No need to be as complicated as the last sentence. Just get the Social Workers to do the job they are paid for. Or resign. Just the same terms as apply to the rest of us.

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Unhappy

Re: Why so many and why so much?

"Just get the Social Workers to do the job they are paid for. "

The poop would really hit the propeller if they did.

The problem is that they're having to also do the work of empty (frozen) posts, colleagues off work with stress-related problems.

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Anonymous Coward

Why and why...

> Why did this system have to record all children in the UK...?

Because, for example, when you are a teacher with a pupil that arrives at school with unusual injuries and an explanation from the parent that you simply don't believe, being able to find out the name of the child's GP and ask whether the doctor was aware of said injuries - without alerting the parents - is a very useful thing to be able to do. Obviously this can only work if all children are on the database.

> Why did it cost so much

Because, in addition to storing contact details - which is relatively simple in the scheme of things - it needs secure connectivity to GPs, Police stations, Social Service departments etc etc. This does not come so cheaply.

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Anonymous Coward

Why and why.....

"Obviously this can only work if all children are on the database."

Except it was all children except for those of celebrities, MPs.....

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Anonymous Coward

It didn't have to include all children

PP1: "> Why did this system have to record all children in the UK...?

PP2: Because, for example, when you are a teacher with a pupil that arrives at school with unusual injuries and an explanation from the parent that you simply don't believe, being able to find out the name of the child's GP and ask whether the doctor was aware of said injuries - without alerting the parents - is a very useful thing to be able to do. Obviously this can only work if all children are on the database."

SPIRO: That's not obvious at all. Instead you could have a system where the teacher sends her "Suspicious Injury Report" to a central authority, which then checks it against all other SIRs. If the authority finds that a GP has already filed a separate SIR for that same child, then it can ask the GP to take appropriate action.

Now this system too would have some practical problems; in particular there would have to be a satisfactory way of matching children's identities so that the central authority could be reasonably sure that two diferent SIRs referred to the same child. But (a) that problem also exists in the universal "Contactpoint" model and (b) it is far easier to solve in my model because there are far fewer subjects and thus far fewer identity collisions than in a universal database.

Moreover my system avoids the intrusiveness of creating a database of all children, 90-odd per cent of whom do not need to be on it. And since the only people with read access would be the handful of people who work for the central authority, it would be much more secure against corrupt or stupid users.

I expect the DFES considered my scheme (it is after all very obvious) and rejected it for some reason. I should like to know what the reason was; I expect it would strongly reflect the fact that the priorities of government departments are quite different from those of the public.

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Pint

As someone

Due to be a 1st-time parent in the next couple weeks, this is the most welcome news I've heard in a long time.

It might be for the wrong reasons (financial rather than civil liberties), but I'm glad to see the back of this nonetheless.

Beers all round for everyone involved in burying this. Hopefully, it's face-down so it can't come back to life and claw its way out of the grave.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: As someone

I suggest we should seek confirmation that a large quantity of Quick Lime was also included with the body. Will there be independent verification that nothing remains?

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Badgers

Common Assessment Framework (eCAF)

A welcome development, and thank God it has gone. But ContactPoint only contained a limited amount of sensitive personal data.

The detailed information stored in eCAF is *far* more sensitive than ContactPoint.

Try to imagine the security model and security arrangements required to store, distribute, and replicate sensitive personal information about acutely vulnerable children to every local authority, police force, childrens charity, hospital, and school in the country.

Then ponder the cost of that security. Then ponder how that will ever be truly secure.

yours truly,

Anon.

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@Why so many and why so much

>Why did this system have to record all children in the UK to identify those recorded as being at risk?

The caring 'professionals' attitude that you are all guilty of something, even if it's just the possiblilty that you might do something. That's why we need to store the DNA of innocent people - just in case.

>Why did it cost £230 Million to develop a basic system to store names and addresses

Usual budget wrangling. Everybody wants a nice shiny new computer - you have a new big budget contract to stick the PO on.

You have been told to cut costs, so all your IT staff, maintenance contracts, HVAC, etc now get attached to the new big shiny contract.

You save costs, a big project becomes bigger and more important ..repeat.

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Flame

Classic Case Of European Waste

Indeed someone from Brussels distracted Gordo so much he confused 230 000 with 230 000 000 Pounds. Heinous french-communist-napoleonic-bastards !

Seriously, this demonstrates fully that local governments are much more wasteful than anyone in Brussels can ever be.

I have more than ten years of enterprise systems development experience and 230 MILLIONS are just outrageous for this kind of system. What they basically need is a systeom of entering a report, assign that to a person and manage access of social workers, police etc to this person's records. Slap in an open-source fulltext search engine and DONE.

I guess one could even implement the basic functionality with the Google Search Appliance and ActiveDirectory. Cost: 10000 Pounds for consulting, 100 000 Pounds for the servers. DONE. FINITO.

If they really need a relational database, my most expensive consulting cost estimate would be 1 man-year and that's 150 000 Euros for an experienced enterprise developer. Then add 1 million for a servers running Postgres, a fulltext search engine (Lucene ?) and Apache. DONE.

Users of the system would just use their offical PC and log in by webbrowser to https://cansomeonethinkaboutthesweetkiddies.gov.uk. If they want to secure it, print one-time login numbers on paper and send it to the social workers. No electronic tokens required whatsoever.

This demonstrates the waste in national and local governments and secondly I doubt this kind of monster database is required at all !

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Getting rid of the records

Presumably the "getting rid of" the ContactPoint records will be done by putting it all on some unencrypted CDs and leaving them on a train or in a pub car park? Or downloading to a laptop which is then left in the back of a taxi? Or just putting them in the post?

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Sod all has changed

in the last 40 years. I recall that in the early 1970s there was an almost identical case (I forget the name of the child) with precisely the same criticisms of social services. They never learn.

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Flame

Yeah, But

..they have wasted 230 millions on IT consultants, project managers and a bunch of 100 other drones.

Instead, they could have paid 1000 social workers for one year to look into broken familie's houses, but never mind. At least they tried to do something !!

You know, at least BMW benefited from that because the IT drones could buy shiny new cars from the 230 MILLION POUND PORKBARREL.

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