Plan to put every child on database to halt abuse

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Indy Politics

An electronic card containing details about every child in the country will be held by all children's services under government plans announced yesterday aimed at avoiding a repeat of the tragic death of Victoria Climbie.

Ministers want every local authority to hold an "information hub" on all children in their area, listing where they live, where they go to school, the name of their GP and any concerns that have been "flagged up" about them.

The proposal is part of the biggest shake-up of children's services for decades in the wake of the murder of Victoria, eight, who was tortured for months after coming to live with her aunt in north London.

The information, which will be accessible to all those who work with children, will include a section where any contact with agencies such as police, social or education welfare services can be flagged up.

All those connected with the child will be able to register their concerns and a Green Paper published yesterday suggested that two flags should trigger an automatic investigation of the child's circumstances.

Charles Clarke, the Secretary of State for Education, said yesterday in the Commons: "Today marks a turning point in the way we protect, nurture and support children. In the past there has been a piecemeal approach to reform that has papered over the cracks but left children at risk.

"The tragic death of Victoria Climbie made us realise we simply can't go on like this anymore."

Proposals in the 100-page document include calling on local authorities to appoint directors of children's services.

Margaret Hodge, the Minister for Children, said that there had to be a known individual in every authority with whom "the buck stops".

A children's commissioner will also be appointed with the responsibility of looking after the interests of children and checking on standards of care. Ofsted, the education watchdog, will carry out school-style inspections of all services.

Tony Blair lent his personal backing to the proposals, saying: "The fact that a child like Victoria Climbie can still suffer almost unimaginable cruelty to the point of eventually losing her young life shows that things are still very far from right. More can and must be done."

Ministers believe that the horrific nature of Victoria's murder in 2000 will override any objections from civil liberty groups to their proposals for a centrally-held card.

All those who work with children are to be told they should not let concern for privacy of parents or individuals complicate the need to flag up any points of concern about individual children.

The Green Paper said: "We want to see an information hub developed in every authority consisting of a list of all the children living in their area and basic details.

"In order to capture fully the concerns of a range of professionals over time, there is a strong case for giving practitioners the ability to flag on the system early warning about a child which may or may not be a trigger."

It concluded: "The Government wants to prevent situations where a child does not receive the help they need because of too rigid an interpretation of the privacy of the child and their family."

Reaction to the proposals was largely favourable - although there were concerns that merging social services and education departments under one directorate could lead to a loss of expertise.

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "In education, what is essential is that roles are not blurred. It is the responsibility of social workers to follow up potential cases of abuse."

Lord Laming, who held an inquiry into the death of Victoria in January, said that the Government had accepted the recommendations outlined in his report.

He added: "The Green Paper is a stimulating document which is quite rightly not preoccupied with structure but is a statement of vision. So far, so very good."

Victoria's parents, Francis and Berthe, said from their home in Ivory Coast: "We also welcome the proposals set out in the Green Paper today." But they criticised the Government for failing to establish a national agency for children and families - as advocated by Lord Laming. They said that they would be meeting Mr Clarke and Ms Hodge to seekassurances that the decision to establish a Minister for Children would be sufficient to cover the recommendation.