Database to track vulnerable children scrapped by Government

A multimillion-pound Government computer system swamped in red tape is to be scrapped after experts said it was a danger to vulnerable children, the Daily Telegraph can disclose.
Local authorities have spent the past four years implementing the Government’s £72m Integrated Children’s System (ICS) amid threats that critical funding would be cut if they did not comply.

But the system, described by staff as “an unworkable monster”, generated stacks of paperwork 6ins thick for every child, had no way of tracking the siblings of abused children, and absorbed up to 80 per cent of social workers’ time.

In response to a damning assessment of ICS by a group of Government-appointed experts, Baroness Morgan, the children’s minister, has written to councils telling them they can abandon the controversial record-keeping system. She has left the responsibility for its replacement in their hands.

Officials last night raised fears that vulnerable children were still at risk because it could take years to build a working alternative.

Tim Loughton, shadow children’s minister, said: “Ed Balls has finally had to admit what front line social workers have known all along – the Government’s Integrated Children’s System was at best a waste of money and at worst a danger to children.

“This system wasted more than £72 million of taxpayers’ money, but the human cost to child protection and to the social work profession has been much higher.”

ICS, which stores case records about children at risk of abuse, was introduced in the wake of the Laming report which revealed that information-sharing failures at Haringey Council led to the death of Victoria Climbie in 2000.

But the Social Work Task Force appointed this March to review child protection practices after the death of a second child in Haringey, Baby P, issued a damning verdict on the Government system.

In a letter to the Department for Children, Schools and Families this May, the Task Force called ICS a “burdensome process” which kept social workers “tied up in bureaucracy” and away from their duties on the front line.

An Ofsted report published last Friday found that Haringey council was still failing to protect vulnerable children and identified faults with ICS as part of the problem.

It stated: “The risks arising from these system dysfunctions are that data are unreliable, managers cannot easily track progress on cases and in some cases professionals… do not have access to critical child protection or safeguarding information.”

In her letter to councils, Baroness Morgan told councils she was “making it clear that local authorities will not be required to comply with the published specifications for ICS in order to receive capital funding”.

She added: “ICT systems which support children’s care should be locally owned and implemented within a simplified national framework”.

Local authorities had previously been forced to use Government-authorised computer systems, known collectively as the “Integrated Children’s System”, in order to qualify for crucial funding.

But despite telling officials they could abandon the Government model, the children’s minister denied that ICS was effectively being scrapped.

She said in a statement: “Part of developing a highly skilled and professional workforce is ensuring that the IT system social workers use is accessible, workable and secure.

“The Social Work Task Force agreed that ICS is the right system but made a number of recommendations. Today we are driving this change forward.”

Council officers said they would have to “junk” the Government’s specifications and start again from scratch.

Andrew Christie, Director of Children’s Services at Hammersmith and Fulham, said: “The Government has left social workers and vulnerable children at the bottom of a black hole that it will take years to climb out of.

“We have already spent a huge amount of time and money implementing this labyrinthine system and now we will have to spend more time and money unpicking it and retraining staff.”

Staff at Kensington and Chelsea council, which had its funding cut for refusing to implement ICS in 2005, said they were being “inundated” with requests from other councils wanting to buy the alternative system they have built.