Family and Relationships


Child-Monitoring Database Raises Hope and Concern in England

May 20, 2009 07:30 AM
by Anita Gutierrez-Folch
ContactPoint aims to improve communication among professionals working with children at risk but the controversial database has raised numerous security and privacy concerns.

ContactPoint Launched After Two Delays

This week, the British government launched ContactPoint, a national database containing detailed information on 11 million children up to 18 years of age living in England, the BBC reported. The database will be available to approximately 390,000 teachers, doctors, social workers, police and other child care professionals, allegedly enabling them to deliver more coordinated and exhaustive health and social services for children.

At the initial launch of the database in January, Children’s Secretary Ed Balls was quoted as saying by the Guardian that "No system can ever guarantee that all children will be safe but we know ContactPoint will make a real difference." Apart from the usual information such as name, date of birth, gender, address and contact information, the database will include details such as “school performance, diet and even whether their parents provide a 'positive role model',” the Daily Mail reported in 2006.

Because of a series of concerns about data security, the installation of the database—which cost taxpayers an impressive 224 million pounds ($346 million)—has suffered two delays. According to the BBC, a 2007 report conducted by auditing company Deloitte and Touche stated that the security of the system could never be entirely guaranteed.

Fears about database misuse persist: To prevent information abuse, the government will shield the identities and profiles of the more than 51,000 children considered to be at risk, the BBC reported.

Background: Failure to remove kids from risky homes ends in murder

ContactPoint was prompted by previous incidents involving neglected children “falling into gaps between different services,” the Guardian reported in January. In 2000, 8-year-old Victoria Climbié was murdered after being tortured by her great-aunt and her great-aunt’s boyfriend. According to the Guardian, Victoria had been in contact with doctors, police and social workers, but without a comprehensive database of information, each service was not able to know whether other services or people had tended to the child.

Similarly, in 2007, a 17-month-old boy known as Baby P, who had also been seen by various doctors and social workers, died after suffering extended abuse from his mother and her boyfriend. Balls told the Guardian that tragic cases such as these happen due to a “lack of ‘proper and timely information-sharing.’"

Reactions: ContactPoint proves controversial

The introduction of ContactPoint has been met with mixed reviews and concerns about its use, scope and mission. According to the Guardian, Lord Laming, responsible for the inquiry into Victoria Climbié’s case, stated that even though the database would not replace the need for improved communication between the different teams and departments that deal with child concerns, “ContactPoint will be an important tool in supporting this practice.”

On the other hand, David Laws, children's spokesman for the Liberal Democratic party, expressed his fears about the possible misuse of the system. “The government has shown it can't be trusted with sensitive data,” he told the Guardian. “Parents have every right to demand that their children's personal details are not put at risk."

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Related Topic: Britain’s DNA database

Britain’s extensive National DNA Database, created in 1995, originally collected DNA samples when a person was charged with a crime and destroyed the profiles if the person was acquitted. In 2001, however, England, Wales and Northern Ireland began retaining all profiles, and in 2003 the police began collecting samples after any arrest. The database now contains DNA profiles of between 4 and 5 million people. An estimated 850,000 people, including 40,000 children, were later acquitted of their crimes.

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