Memorandum by Sheffield City Council
Do you think that ContactPoint,
as now proposed, will adequately achieve its declared aim of "supporting
more effective prevention and early intervention, to ensure that
children get the additional services they need as early as possible"?
If so, can you exemplify the benefits that your organisation sees
from ContactPoint? If not, can you explain any reservations that
you may have?
1. In answering this question
it is important to point out that Sheffield City Council was one
of the original 'Trailblazer' authorities in this area and was
one of the few to establish an operational 'Index'. Known as Sheffield
SafetyNET (www.sheffieldsafetynet.gov.uk) the local Index
has been in full operation from October 2005 and has in excess
of 2000 local children's services practitioners registered to
use it. As such Sheffield is in a unique position to comment on
the effectiveness of the underlying principles of ContactPoint
in delivering the above stated goals.
2. In Sheffield the local Index
is a key component of our multi-agency children's services strategy,
operating as part of a comprehensive framework the SafetyNET application is
widely used by front line children's services workers
to establish the 'team around the child'. The application supports
cross-organisational data sharing by providing a quick and simple
way for practitioners to obtain contact details of other supporting
individuals and teams from a child centric view. Sheffield
City Council considers the local SafetyNET system to be critical
to the ongoing success of collaborative working in Sheffield.
We have a number of case studies, based on real-work examples
that support this view.
3. A key weakness of the local
Sheffield system is the lack of cross border information. A child
or young person receiving services from (for example) Barnsley
but being educated in a Sheffield school would have an incomplete
record on the SafetyNET system - this is an ongoing source of
frustration for our practitioner community.
4. The establishment of a national
system as specified by the ContactPoint programme tackles this
important problem by establishing a national Index of Children
and young people. Sheffield's experience would suggest that the
effective operation of such a system across the country would
significantly improve the effectiveness of local support networks
and would therefore lead to the stated outcomes of more effective
prevention, early intervention and the identification of additional
services. That said, the computerised elements of the programme
will not, in themselves deliver on these goals and a significant
level of local workforce training / reform is required, within
an established framework; there is a danger that the current scrutiny
and focus on the computerised elements of this initiative could
undermine the essential deployment and frontline operational changes
that will be required within each local authority in order for
the programme to be effective.
5. Sheffield has some concerns
regarding the details of the computerised deployment, specifically
the Sheffield experience has demonstrated that an important factor
in the success of the local system was the ability for that system
to proactively inform front line practitioners of changes to the
'team around the child' as they happen - the national system will
not be capable of delivering this function.
6. In essence, however, the principles
of ContactPoint are supported by Sheffield and this support is
based on practical experience of our local deployment, which has
led to (albeit mostly anecdotal) improvements in the lives of
Children and Young People in the local area.
DfES have published a summary
of responses to the consultation process which they carried out
between September and December 2006. See: http://www.dfes.gov.uk/consultations/conResults.cfm?consultationId=1431
This shows that many respondents commented that the Regulatory
Impact Assessment in that consultation process did not correctly
identify all stakeholders, and that in particular that the RIA
did not assess the risks to children, young people and their families
(CYPF), or the impact on their privacy, of ContactPoint. DfES
have made it clear that they do not agree with these comments.
Do you think that the interests of CYPF have been adequately taken
into account in the proposals for ContactPoint? Can you set out
the reasons for your views on this issue?
7. From being involved with the
ContactPoint team from an early stage (when it was previously
known as ISA) it is clear that the team took the consultation
and subsequent views of children and young people extremely seriously.
I represented Sheffield at two consultation events organised by
the team to gather children's views and I am aware of a great
many other initiatives that were undertaken.
8. In addition the national programme
is actively encouraging local authorities to establish clear communications
plans that will include information specifically designed for
children and young people, the team have produced content to support
such communications. In summary I would disagree with the comments
from the consultation process and strongly suggest that consultation
with children and young people has been wide and extensive given
the complexity of the issues under debate.
Once the Regulations have been
approved, DfES intend to take forward national implementation
of ContactPoint. Do you think that preparations for implementation
are adequate, e.g., in the areas of training for those who will
use ContactPoint, and of communication about the system?
9. The ContactPoint Implementation
programme is being effectively managed, with clear routes for
communication (regional co-ordinators and the LARA on-line information
resource). The implementation is, however, in danger of not achieving
its aims due to the extremely tight deadlines imposed on the delivery
of the technology elements and, I believe, an underestimation
of the scale of the training issues over and above the relatively
simplistic training required to operate the technology.
10. As such I do have some concerns
that the current timescales for the deployment of ContactPoint
are not achievable. This is partially in the area of training
and workforce reform. With reference to my earlier comment, Sheffield
has significantly invested in training in all aspects of multi-agency
working (of which the Index or ContactPoint is only a part). We
have been operating this training since early 2006 and have still
not trained over 50% of our target workforce (7000 practitioners)
in the use of our local Index and, more importantly, the more
in-depth concepts around CAF, Lead Professional and Information
Sharing. Add to this the ongoing movement of staff and the significance
and complexity of the workforce reform become apparent.
11. ContactPoint is not about
a computer system (regardless of the current focus), it is about
changing the way frontline staff work and as such the goals of
ContactPoint cannot be fully achieved without significant investment
in workforce reform. I would therefore like to see a re-evaluation
of the deadline targets and initial benefits realisation currently
attached to the ContactPoint programme based on a more sophisticated
understanding of the impact this initiative has with the changing
practices within Children's services at a local level.
Integrated Services Manager