Select Committee on Merits of Statutory Instruments Twenty-Seventh Report



Memorandum by Sheffield City Council

Objective

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.

Consultation

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.

Implementation

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.

James Randall

Integrated Services Manager

July 2007


 
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