asked Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the effectiveness of their new arrangements for child protection.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, there has been a great deal of activity on the child protection front relating to legislation, regulation and practice. That is to the Government’s credit. They have clearly demonstrated that they are not content to sit on their laurels but will continue to strive for improvement. I want to touch on six issues: first, the CRB checks, the new IBB and the implementation of the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006; secondly, ContactPoint; thirdly, the effect of the CAF; fourthly, the Section 58 review; fifthly, children’s services and school inspections; and, sixthly, child protection proceedings, legal and police matters.
The CRB will continue, under the IBB, to carry out the checks on whether someone is suitable to work with children. The system is still far from perfect. People are unclear about who has to be checked, and how often. For example, a recent TES blog carried a question:
“Does anyone know whether CRB checks are required for observation/shadowing at primary schools, if so do they take long to arrange?”
The fact that the person asked the question indicates that there is not widespread understanding of the system. The answers were varied, indicating a complete lack of consistency among schools about the current requirements.
There is clear evidence that the time the checks are taking is getting in the way of sports coaching. In August football matches all over the north-east had to be cancelled because 200 referees had not been checked in time. The local FA secretary said that it was because,
“they don’t see why they have to carry this out”.
Clearly people do not understand the need for these checks, and, in many cases, feel insulted by them. There was evidence from the NCH at the start of volunteering week that 17 per cent of men would not volunteer because they would face a check; and 13 per cent would not volunteer because they would be perceived as a paedophile. How sad it is that the high profile of a very few terrible cases makes decent people feel like that. NACRO also expresses concerns about how the system deters ex-offenders from volunteering.
Finally on this topic, the guidance sent to schools last January says that existing teachers and others do not have to be fully vetted, despite claims by Ministers that the procedures would be tightened. The Government promised to close the loopholes, but Safeguarding Children and Safer Recruitment in Education still says that schools are not required to run criminal checks on any staff already in post. New recruits are also exempt if they move directly from another school. When will this loophole be closed? If not, what evidence is there that this is safe?
We must all do what we can to protect children, but if the process of vetting is slow, costly and inconsistently or unfairly applied, the danger is that there will be a temptation to take short cuts.
I turn to the universal children’s database ContactPoint. Can the Minister update the House following his letter of 31 August? How many authorities are now ready, and when will the system go live universally rather than just in trailblazer authorities? Will he ensure that ContactPoint training is rolled out beyond those providing children’s services to include those who provide whole-family services, such as housing? Experience demonstrates that families seeking to keep under the radar will often not contact specialist services; so ensuring that generic services understand the importance of recording their involvement will be key to ensuring that the system works. Will he also ensure that training and information are provided to caseworkers who do not have access to the internet, as much of the training is on the internet?
Is the Minister aware that young people are very anxious about this database and believe that their privacy is being interfered with? I was at a meeting of young people yesterday; it is run by the all-party group and BT and is called Seen and Heard. One of the main issues raised was that, although those who know about the database are very concerned about it, many young people have no idea what it is all about. What are the Government going to do about that? One young person also told me that her boyfriend visited a school where the database was live and was shown it. She was concerned that security was very relaxed. It is vital that this system is available only to authorised users.
I move seamlessly to my third concern—the new electronic common assessment framework. It is extraordinary that throughout the whole debate on the regulations for ContactPoint, the Government did not once mention their intention to create a second, parallel, national electronic database containing sensitive assessments of children seeking services. All our concerns about the security of ContactPoint are amplified in relation to eCAF. It is simply not possible to keep such a large database secure. It will have thousands of users, quite conceivably as many as ContactPoint. While arguments about the potential insecurity of ContactPoint have been countered with assertions from the Government that it will contain only minimal information, the same cannot be said about eCAF. It will contain detailed personal information about children seeking services and clear indications of their vulnerability. The Government have insisted that eCAF is a consent-based process, but my informants, Action on Rights for Children, have been contacted by several practitioners involved in the pilots, who tell them that consent to share eCAFs is not being sought and that families are being told that they will not be able to access services unless they agree to an eCAF. That is disgraceful.
These practitioners have also expressed concerns about the potential effect of eCAFs on child protection. In borderline cases, where a teacher is unsure whether to make a Section 47 referral, they have been told to complete an eCAF. I have heard from a number of practitioners that this practice is reducing the number of referrals because of the extra workload. Some practitioners are not sure whether their concerns are serious enough to go straight to child protection and, if they are unsure, they are told to fill in an eCAF. This puts them off making any report at all. It is completely inappropriate to use an eCAF where there are child protection concerns. It risks inexperienced practitioners being drawn into what may be complex and manipulative relationships, and consequently missing vital signs of problems. Besides, many of them are not properly trained to do so. How are the Government monitoring the effect that the requirement to complete an eCAF is having on the number of referrals to children’s social services? Child protection work is highly specialised, and this creeping confusion of children in need with children at risk of harm is very dangerous.
My next point is about the involvement of the police in child protection investigations. Is it a deliberate policy to reduce their role and, if so, what are the reasons? What statistics are being gathered about how often the police are involved? I have been asked by experienced social workers and police to bring a number of related matters to the Minister’s attention, but I have not been given enough time, so I will write to him with the details. I must say that allowing only 10 minutes per speaker when we have a 90-minute debate slot is just stupid.
There is major concern among professionals about the abolition of the child protection register, which identified high-risk children and focused resources and alert systems where they were most needed. It was the most important tool that we had to protect children. There are concerns that the new arrangements will reduce thresholds and cause confusion, and I hope that the Minister will take very seriously the professionals’ concerns that I have relayed to him today and will write to him about in my imminent letter.
A very recent development has been the consultation on Section 58 of the Children Act 2004; the issue of children being hit by their parents. There have been hundreds of responses from professionals and the voluntary sector working with children. Will the Minister confirm that the report of the consultation will be published as promised this autumn? Will he also confirm my understanding that the vast majority of the responses were critical of the current law allowing “reasonable punishment” as being unjust and unsafe? Will he also accept my comment that I think the questions were terribly distorted? For example, the very first question:
“To what extent has section 58 improved legal protection for children in cases of alleged assault by their parents”,
can only be regarded as a leading question and would probably have been challenged if put to a witness in a court of law. Nevertheless, will the Minister take very seriously the opinions expressed by all those who responded to this unusually short consultation?
Now I will say a word about inspections of schools and children's services. Ofsted is now a gargantuan organisation with responsibility for inspecting care services as well as education. Would the Minister care to tell us how this is going? Is he confident that those doing the inspections really have the skills and experience to do them? Do they understand the significance of what they are seeing and do they have adequate time to do it? In relation to the last point, I have serious concerns about the ability of inspectors doing short inspections of one or two days to give a view that can be relied on about the school's child protection policy and practice. Some inspectors who have left Ofsted have admitted that the short inspection process is not secure in relation to child protection issues. Even when Ofsted makes alarming comments in its report about the safeguarding arrangements, it does not seem to have much effect on the school's final report if its academic record is good. There have been two reviews of the shortened inspection regime and neither says anything about how Ofsted knows that the findings are as reliable as before with the longer inspection regime.
I also have serious concerns about the recent Ofsted annual report, which says on page 38 that almost 40 per cent of independent schools inspected did not have sufficiently robust policies and procedures to safeguard children. Perhaps that is because the latest independent schools regulations just say what has changed since the last lot. That does not make them easy to follow. What do the Government intend to do about that? The regulations are very muddled between what is required and what is recommended as good practice. Independent schools must “comply with” the guidance for child protection but need only “have regard to” the guidance on health and safety. To make matters worse, some of the guidance is simply badly drafted.
The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, is not able to be with us today, but she asked me to raise two more issues. She understands that future changes in local government arrangements will result in less external scrutiny of local authority social workers. Is that so and, if so, why are the Government confident that that is not needed? Secondly, she was told by the Minister in a recent debate that local authorities will be given extra funding to underpin their child protection services. Will the Minister say how much they have received and when?
I could go on, but I do not have time, so I look forward to the Minister's reply.
My Lords, I apologise for my delayed entrance in this debate. My office is right at the other end and I anticipated that the previous business would go on slightly longer, so please accept my heartfelt apologies.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Walmsley for giving us the opportunity to debate this critical issue. I will keep my intervention rather brief, although I have to agree with her that time limiting people when there is a 90-minute debate and we have so few speakers is quite extraordinary. Nevertheless, I will concentrate on two or three areas, one of which is the use of restraint on children in custody.
We know that there is much concern about the rising numbers of children in the United Kingdom who are incarcerated. While there may be exigencies where no other option is available than to incarcerate children, surely their protection when under custodial sentence is paramount. The House will be aware of the work of my noble friend Lord Carlile in this regard and the report by the Howard League for Penal Reform on the treatment of children in penal custody resulting from the inquiry undertaken by him. The House debated that report earlier this year in an extremely wide-ranging and thoughtful discussion.
In the United Kingdom, we incarcerate more children than most other European countries—about 2,900 children are in custody of one form or other. As my noble friend Lord Carlile pointed out in our debate on 19 February 2007, restraint was used about 8,000 times in the last 12-month period for which figures were available.
The Government have acknowledged that statistical data on the use of restraint can be improved. The noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, in responding then informed the House that a set of common definitions and new accounting rules had been agreed to enable statistical data to be collected in a way that allows clearer comparisons of practice across the three sectors of the estate. He said that the new data reporting and recording would come into effect from April. In the light of those new systems, can the Minister confirm that the new system will indeed break down data according to race and ethnicity as well, so that we may be able to tell how many of the affected children come from ethnic minorities? That is the minimal information that we need in order to evaluate whether particularly community interventions are successful.
Another area that I want to raise today is about the use of physical interventions overall. The Minister will know of the report in the Guardian on Monday this week that the Ministry of Justice is to review current guidelines on the use of batons on children as young as 15. The Government confirmed to my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford that the Youth Justice Board has not indicated that it wants a change of policy in that regard, but I hope that the Minister will use this opportunity today to reconfirm that they will not move in that direction. In fact, will the Minister confirm that the Government accept that physical force must never be used to secure compliance or as punishment? According to the NSPCC, staff in secure training centres currently use restraint to maintain order or to impose the authority of staff over children. If that is the case, that is indeed to be deplored.
I understand that the Joint Committee on Human Rights is currently looking into the compatibility of the Secure Training Centre (Amendment) Rules 2007 with international human rights standards. The committee's deliberations are currently under way, but I wonder whether the Minister can assure me that the views of the JCHR will indeed inform the Government’s position on the rules in their current review. At the moment, the rules allow for powers to restrain under that technique to prevent physical injury, escape, property damage or the incitement of other children to do the same. Now, we understand, the amended rules will further extend those powers to permit the use of authorised physical restraint,
“where necessary for the purpose of ensuring good order and discipline ... Where no alternative method of ensuring good order or discipline ... is available”.
The implication of that change is that the use of force will become far more frequent and that signifies a trend in the wrong direction. If that is the direction of travel, we are in danger as a society of sanctioning behaviour on the part of the state that we find unacceptable—indeed, criminal—when practised by individuals.
My other point is to do with the trafficking of children. In 2004, the most conservative figure that we had for child trafficking was that of the US State Department, which thought that about 600,000 to 700,000 people were trafficked worldwide. According to the State Department, the figure for children was about 50 per cent of that. On the other end of the scale, the OSCE thinks that 1.2 million children are trafficked each year. The scale of the problem is unknown, yet the misery and suffering that it causes are all too evident. It has been referred to as the modern-day equivalent of the slave trade.
The Minister will be aware of the recent report from UNICEF, Rights Here, Rights Now, which indicates that more than 180 children trafficked illegally into the UK have gone missing without trace from social services care. The report said that even where traffic children are identified,
“their care and protection is inconsistent, ad hoc and, in some regions, completely absent”.
In their review, are the Government giving any consideration to UNICEF’s suggestion that a professional guardian for each trafficked child should be appointed to protect that child’s interests?
I welcome the signing by the United Kingdom of the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings. This certainly brings a little closer the guarantee of help and protection for those who are trafficked. But, nevertheless, there are concerns about the lack of access to care and support, particularly for those children entering under asylum rules.
Concerns also remain about the Government’s reservation on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which, in the opinion of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, legitimises unequal treatment of asylum-seeking children. Will the Government ensure that the protection of child victims of trafficking is not compromised? Will they furthermore indicate when they expect to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings? The matter is pressing and the longer reviews take, the more children are exposed to risk.
My Lords, what we lack in numbers today we certainly make up for in commitment. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for raising this important subject. It will always be timely because the welfare and protection of children is a serious and ongoing concern. Sometimes it is jostled from the top of the political agenda but that can never be said of your Lordships’ House— from the Motion of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the excellent ensuing debate two years ago on the second Joint Chief Inspectors’ report on arrangements to safeguard children, to the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, on the UNICEF Child Poverty in Perspective: An Overview of Child Well-being in Rich Countries, not a policy on the welfare of children and their protection goes unscrutinised, and I pay tribute to that dedication.
Interestingly, the Motion of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, draws attention to the Government’s “new” arrangements for child protection. The noble Baroness covered these comprehensively and with her customary authority and I shall be echoing much of what she said.
There has been a flurry of legislative activity in government on child protection over the past two years. I recall well the debate we had on the contact point regulations; the many debates on the Childcare Bill and the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill; and the discussion of the Care Matters White Paper of last year which will result in new legislation. Tragic events galvanised the Government into action and it is right that new measures for vetting and barring in the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill were introduced. However, the protection of children needs to, and must, go far beyond legislation and regulation.
The challenges of child protection are incredibly far reaching and affect every aspect of a child’s life, from home to school, in education and in care. Families in whatever shape and size are, of course, the star players in keeping children safe and well cared for. The report of my right honourable friend Iain Duncan Smith has touched on this with passion and great detail. His proposal for a national relationship and parenting invitation scheme for couples and parents to improve access to support for vulnerable families is a wonderful example of the kind of initiative that could assist struggling families.
Yet the tragedy at the moment is that for so many children growing up in dysfunctional families the next step is leaving that unit and being taken into care. The every child matters website raises the plight of children in care, stating that,
“the majority of children who remain in care are there because they have suffered abuse or neglect”.
In 2004, up to 13 per cent of the 78,500 children in care were moved to a new placement three times; 12 per cent were children under the age of two, when emotional attachment and stability are so important. That is as distressing a figure now as it was then. I recognise the Government’s determination to address this, but without more foster carers and dedicated child social workers, the very people who will care and watch out for these children, it will be a difficult task to achieve. Can the Minister tell us how this is progressing?
This short debate presents a good opportunity to ask the Government for a brief health check on their legislative arsenal. The guidance of November last year issued under the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act did not cover the requirements of the new vetting and barring scheme to be introduced under that Act. It is my understanding that they were due to have been phased in this year. I should be grateful if the Minister could tell us when we might expect to see that guidance and whether he would welcome a debate on the implementation of the vetting and barring scheme.
There was great concern when the Bill was in your Lordships' House that the vetting and barring system was not perhaps as straightforward as the Bichard inquiry had envisaged. Clearly the theoretical idea and the practical implication are two very different things. However, one issue that stood out was the accepted need for a clear communication campaign to ensure that employers and employees knew what was required of them. Can the Minister update us on how wide-reaching their campaign has been and what has been the level of response? There has been a great deal of concern, too, as to how effectively the Independent Barring Board, now to be known as the Independent Safeguarding Authority, would process checks. There was deep uncertainty as to how many CRB checks would have to be processed year on year and whether the Independent Safeguarding Authority would be able to cope. There was, too, much discussion on the composition of ISA membership. At the time there was talk of creating a membership made up of civil servants, experienced charity workers, academics and so on. Will the Minister confirm whether there is a now a complete slate and what is the composition of the authority? I am sure that he will be able to give noble Lords chapter and verse on how he anticipates the ISA will work following a year of consideration. I look forward to what he has to say and hope that it will be reassuring.
We had an intricate debate on the establishment of Contact Point before the recess. Many questions were raised about that database and they were answered fully by the Minister, for which we were most grateful. However, Contact Point is just part of a web of other databases and directives. My honourable friend Tim Loughton MP was told in February that the evaluation of the study of the integrated children’s system, presented by academics to the Government in August 2006, would be published for public reference imminently. It is worrying that there has been no sight of this because this analysis is key to the implementation of all the systems set up by Government to safeguard children. Given that the Government's safeguarding strategy relies heavily on the integration of these databases, it would pose serious problems if that integration was not working. Can the Minister say when it will be published?
I should also be grateful for any further explanation on the decision to implement a single national IT system to support the Enablement of the Common Assessment Framework, eCAF, as disclosed by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Kevin Brennan, the day before the Summer Recess. As we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, the eCAF system is not as benign as it may seem and I find it extremely concerning that such a dramatic change in its use was brought about by a Written Statement slipped in just before the Recess. The data fields included in eCAF go far beyond Contact Point, including all the information in that system as well as very sensitive personal profiling. The statement describes that personal information as,
“an assessment summary, appropriately captured by the practitioner using free text; and consent-based, planned actions, reviewing progress and a summary of the outcomes, all summarised appropriately by the practitioner using free text”.
In schools, teachers are the professional protectors and defenders of our children. There are fantastic, dedicated people providing the best education and care that they can, so it is alarming that anecdotal evidence suggests that the heavy bureaucratic burden and the threat of information leaking has resulted in many schools refusing to make use of the service. eCAF is meant to provide a service for early intervention into child abuse, but as a result of its cumbersome and threatening format it is dissuading schools from its entire purpose.
There are many serious questions here. What constitutes an “appropriate summary”? Who will have access to this database? Given that it is now a national database, will it come under the aegis of our favourite operational directive, the 2000 e-Government Interoperability Framework, otherwise known as e-GIF, which makes it mandatory for all public sector databases to facilitate the sharing of data across systems? I am sure this was done with the best of intentions and yet I would be interested to know what consultation there was on this change. As the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said, we hear that schools are finding it hard to cope with filling out eCAF forms and unless a child is at immediate risk and a case is a clear Section 47 referral under the Children Act 1989 they do not refer the child.
Child protection officers are highly skilled and appreciate the absolute importance of the sensitivity of the situation, the importance of gathering evidence forensically and the importance of a methodical and highly skilled approach, which is vital to securing real safety for children who are at risk of harm. Does the Minister appreciate that their work could be at risk from other officers working under the aegis of eCAF, whose approach will be, in the words of the statement,
“to provide a standardised approach for practitioners in the holistic assessment of a child's needs”?
We must be wary that an holistic approach does not compromise specialist skills.
Parties of all hues are united in desiring the very best for our children and giving them the best care and protection. There can be no doubt that an enormous amount of good will surrounds measures introduced that will achieve that aim. However, we must proceed with caution. Standards of care should be high but children's needs must not be standardised.
It is true that every child matters. What is also true is that every child is different and has different needs and vulnerabilities. Meeting those needs requires more than CRB checks, collating databases from the earliest years and surveillance. The recording of those small individuals' details alone will not protect them. The first step must be a change in culture. That change must constitute a departure from endless bureaucracy and a renewal of trust in the people who care for and work for children.
My honourable friend David Willetts has proposed in our childhood review a fantastic portfolio that would inject that much underestimated quality—risk—back into childhood so that for children and their carers acting responsibly does not diminish from a sense of responsibility, so that while a carer might protect children they do not stifle their growth and so that instead of subjecting our children to an over-extensive surveillance culture, we do not forget their most basic right—their right to a childhood.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for raising the important issue of child protection. She asked me a vast number of questions and the noble Baronesses, Lady Morris and Lady Falkner, added to the list. Since I did not have notice of the questions, I shall not, frankly, be able to answer all of them. Indeed, I could barely write a number of them down given the speed at which all three noble Baronesses spoke in their allotted time. However, I undertake to write with a full account on all of the points that they raised, or where it is more appropriate that somebody else contacts them, they shall do so. For example, the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, raised a number of issues relating to the new inspectorate for children’s services. Those questions are much more appropriately dealt with by Christine Gilbert, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, and I shall arrange for her to reply directly to the points raised, particularly on the professional competence of inspectors. It may be appropriate for the noble Baroness to meet with the chief inspector and I am sure that the chief inspector will be glad to do so if that enables her to follow up her points more effectively.
The noble Baroness described the new Ofsted with its enlarged children’s services responsibilities as gargantuan, but I stress that it inherited the inspectors from the constituent inspectorates that existed before. The schools inspectors were all inherited from Her Majesty’s Inspectors, and the social services and social care inspectors were inherited from the Commission for Social Care Inspection. Therefore, the professional expertise embedded in the constituent parts of the children’s services inspectorates has been fully maintained by Ofsted. But I will leave the chief inspector to respond to those points. The noble Baroness’s points in relation to the police and child protection cases may be better dealt with by the police directly, but when she writes to me with her specific points I shall decide whether it is more appropriate for the police to contact her directly.
The noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, raised the sensitive issue of restraints in the youth justice system. I confirm that restraint is not to be used as a punishment or simply to obtain compliance with staff. The Youth Justice Board’s behaviour management code of practice makes that very clear. The code also emphasises that restraint must be the last resort in dealing with issues relating to children in custody. That has not changed, and we do not envisage the change to the secure training centre rules leading to greater use of restraints. The Youth Justice Board is closely monitoring the use of physical restraints.
As the House will know, on 12 July my honourable friends David Hanson and Beverley Hughes announced a joint review of restraint in juvenile secure settings. The announcement of that review followed concerns raised by the coroner in the inquest into the restraint-related death of Gareth Myatt in Rainsbrook secure training centre in 2004. The review will also consider the recommendations of the coroner of the inquest into the death of Adam Rickwood, who also died in 2004, in Hassockfield secure training centre. The review will take into account the recent Lancashire Safeguarding Children Board serious case report into Adam’s death. There will be ongoing work in this area, and I will be able to report to the House when the reviews are complete.
The noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, also raised the deplorable issue of child trafficking. We entirely agree with the sentiments that she expressed, which is why on 23 March my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, on behalf of the United Kingdom Government, signed the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. On the same day, the Home Office published the UK Action Plan on Tackling Human Trafficking, including a chapter on child victims of trafficking. We are committed to developing targeted guidance to address child trafficking. We have consulted on that guidance, and we will be publishing it shortly. I will see that it is brought to the immediate attention of the noble Baroness and the House.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, talked about CRB checks. First, on the general point about the competence of the CRB, I assure her—I can send her the statistics—that the CRB’s processes have improved very significantly since the initial problems that we had in 2002. The time taken to process cases has been very considerably reduced. The proportion of cases that are dealt with in a very short timescale is extremely high. I can give her chapter and verse on that. I stress also that the guidance issued in November last year on CRB checks, which came into force in January, is very clear about who needs to be checked. From May 2006, all new appointees to the school workforce need to have CRB checks. Under the new vetting and barring scheme, anyone wishing to work with children or vulnerable adults will need to join the scheme. We are communicating that widely to explain the new scheme to employers.
The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, asked me for an update on where we are on the setting up of the vetting and barring scheme and the implementation of the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act. We have recently consulted on the barring policy, and we will consult next month on wider aspects of the scheme and how it will operate. The noble Baroness asked about the board. Sir Roger Singleton, who was operating in a shadow capacity in this area, has been announced as the chair of the Independent Safeguarding Authority. He has huge experience in this area, and his appointment commands general confidence in the child protection sector. Adrian McAllister is already in post as the chief executive of the Independent Safeguarding Authority. The appointments to the ISA board will be announced by the Home Office shortly.
On the basis of her engagement with young people and others, the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, asked about ContactPoint. She asked what the benefits of ContactPoint were and how they could be set out. We estimate the efficiency benefits of ContactPoint at 5 million hours of saved practitioner time a year, which will free up the time of professionals from administrative tasks to be devoted to providing services to children and their families. As I said in earlier debates on this issue, that will be worth the equivalent of £88 million a year from 2009. We have identified clear service-delivery benefits to children, leading to improved service experience for children, young people and their families—notably, faster intervention before problems become serious—because practitioners are better informed about children and young people’s needs and the services they can access.
On the issue of whether ContactPoint is the thin end of the wedge of a Big-Brother state, which was the essence of the remarks that were made to the noble Baroness, I stress again that ContactPoint will hold only basic identifying information on children, and practitioner contact details. ContactPoint will not provide an integrated case-management system or replace case record systems that are already under development in health or social care, nor will it share data with other agencies’ case management systems. ContactPoint will not record statements of a child’s needs, academic performance, attendance or clinical observations about a child, nor will it hold subjective opinions or comments about the child, their parents or carers.
In respect of concerns about the security of ContactPoint, I again emphasise that it has been designed from the bottom up with security in mind. Rigorous testing of security measures will be undertaken before any live data are loaded and before the system is allowed to go live. This will include penetration testing which is a series of processes and tests that will check the ContactPoint infrastructure, including connectivity and software, for vulnerability to software hacking and unauthorised access, by a specialist third-party organisation under the control of the department, before the system goes live and afterwards. ContactPoint will not be put into service until it has passed these tests.
The noble Baroness asked when ContactPoint will be rolled out—it will roll out by the end of 2008. Only people who need to use ContactPoint as part of their job to support children and young people will have access to the system. They will need an enhanced CRB check, renewable every three years, and they will need to undertake mandatory training on the use of the system before gaining access to it. I will write to noble Baronesses with details on training, but it is substantial, and substantial resources are being put into seeing that the training is available.
The noble Baroness asked me about the report that we will make on Section 58 and the issue of reasonable punishment by parents. This report will be published very shortly indeed and, of course, if she wishes to ask questions about it or to initiate a debate, we would be glad to respond in any way that is appropriate.
My Lords, I apologise for interrupting my noble friend. I am glad to hear that there will be an opportunity for questions, but I hope that there will be an opportunity for much more than that. Before we had the pleasure of welcoming my noble friend to the House, we had concerning and worrying debates on the chastisement of children. It emerged that this country lags far behind others in the observance of children’s rights and the edicts of the United Nations, and that, in the definition taken by the children’s commissioners, England lags behind Wales and Scotland. Many of us on these Benches who commonly support the Government faithfully and enthusiastically on every other policy felt that it was disturbing how many retreats had been conducted—particularly retreats into vague discussions about legal chastisement and reasonable punishment.
My Lords, I understand the strength of feeling in the House. All I can say is that from my experience as a Member for only two years, the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, can be relied upon to bring the attention of the House to this issue on every available opportunity. I am sure that she will not be slow to do that once we have published the report. We will respond in any way that is appropriate and I understand the points made by my noble friend. I would simply say that in this area we are implementing the will of Parliament, which deliberated on this issue at great length three years ago, and the position that was reached then was achieved by a substantial majority on a free vote in this House. I am sure that there will be opportunities to consider this further.
I am almost out of time, so I will have to respond to many of the other points in writing. A number of concerns have been raised about eCAF, to which I will also respond in writing, as I think that some alarmism has been generated. However, let me deal with the specific point about the relationship between eCAF and ContactPoint. Our vision is that, in future, when a common assessment framework has been logged in an eCAF system, ContactPoint will be automatically notified that a common assessment has been carried out and will be sent contact details of the practitioner who completed or updated it. However, there will be no access to the common assessment via ContactPoint. ContactPoint will display these contact details, so that another practitioner looking up the child will discover immediately whether a common assessment has already been carried out and whom to contact about the child.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way; I will be brief. One of the big concerns is that people are filling in eCAF forms on laptop computers. This is highly sensitive information that flags up that a child is vulnerable. Will he please look into this before he responds to us?
My Lords, I have undertaken to look into it, but the advice that we have been given is that the processes are secure. We do not believe that the concerns that have been raised are valid, but I will look into this further and report back.
My time is up, I am afraid. I cannot respond to more points, but I undertake to write to deal with all the points that I have not been able to cover.