Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Recommended reading

It's good to see some thoughtful blogging on the subject of sharing children's information. Dave Hill has been taking the time to get to grips with the nexus of children's databases and assessment systems to arrive at a deeper understanding of the issues involved.

Amid the protests about the 'nanny state' and the potentially harmful effects of intrusion into the private lives of families who are getting along just fine, it's easy to overlook another very important point: a few hundred children are killed, injured or dangerously neglected by their parents every year; a few thousand more are living in lower-grade, chronic misery. Children on Child Protection Registers may account for less than half a percent of all children, but that doesn't mean we can or should ignore them.

It is vital that we have good child protection services and reasonably reliable means of finding and monitoring the children who need those services. The nub of the problem is, as Dave Hill says so succinctly:

Concern about the nature, extent, usefulness, reliability and security of information being held about children and their families is becoming more apparent almost daily. Knee-jerk "nanny state" rhetoric aside there are legitimate fears that this trend will do very little for children at risk and instead result in child protection professionals wasting their time making innocent parents' lives hell on the strength of indicators flagged up on computer screens.
As the Information Commissioner has said, you don't find a needle in a haystack by building a bigger haystack. Of major concern to large numbers of practitioners is that it will become far more difficult to find those children who need to be found if an already understaffed and poorly-resourced system is over-burdened with alarms and excursions about children who are not in any danger. Child protection is a deadly serious business, and is in no way the same as 'child welfare'. It deserves a great deal more than relegation to just one possible category in a large-scale tracking project.

Equally worrying is the potentially deterrent effect of information-sharing on children and parents who need services. If we reach a situation where families are reluctant to approach agencies until crisis forces them to do so, we won't be doing the most vulnerable children any favours at all.

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