I should think everyone has seen the grand announcement of the ‘launch’ of Contactpoint by now. Actually, it’s not really a launch at all. It’s simply that DCSF is giving access to two members of staff from each local authority in the hopes that they can sort out the godawful mess that is ‘shielding’.
Regular readers will remember that plans to get Contactpoint up and running last September were thwarted, at least partly because it hadn’t occurred to DCSF that records would be unshielded but accessible on the system – in some cases for months.
The bad news is that shielding still isn’t sorted out, mainly because too many local authorities don’t seem to understand that the threat from domestic violence can persist for years after separation. Here’s a typical excerpt from a local authority’s reasons for shielding a child’s Contactpoint entry:
one or more individual(s) are likely to cause significant harm to the child/young person and/or their parent/carer; and therefore the child/young person and/or their parent/carer are being, or will be, protected at a location that is not known to the individual(s) posing the threat
So what about those who aren’t being ‘protected’? When ARCH members pointed out to their local authorities that they wouldn’t even know about a fair number of those who are in hiding, they were assured that ‘significant publicity work’ would be undertaken to make sure that people contacted the LA to request shielding.
We did a quick straw poll of members just before Christmas and, from Cornwall to Cumbria, nobody had seen any publicity whatsoever. A couple of weeks ago, children were being sent home from school with ‘Fair Processing Notices’ about Contactpoint, so if any parent didn’t read the FPN carefully and immediately realise its significance, they probably missed their chance to have their children’s details shielded.
Meanwhile, the other night we were told by someone who had worked on Contactpoint (but who wishes to remain incognito because they want still to have a job next week) that the shielding is being done by ‘flagging’ the files that need to be kept hidden, and the database is in fact searchable by flag. It doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in the security of the system. Perhaps the DCSF would like to confirm or deny whether this information is correct?