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Don't list all the children, MPs told

A national database for health, education and social workers should only cover children at risk, MPs were told this week.

Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, told MPs that plans to put all 11 million under-16s on the database would not work. He said it would require consent from parents and raised privacy issues.

MPs on the education select committee were listening to evidence from child welfare experts about aspects of the Children Act and the Government's Every Child Matters policies.

Mr Thomas expressed fears that information may not be secure or kept up to date. He told the committee that this could "quickly undermine the confidence of both professionals and the public in these arrangements and bring them into disrepute", as well as failing to comply with the Data Protection Act.

He said he had heard of a case where a parent had been investigated after a teacher overheard his child telling friends in the playground that she had been "bonked" by her father the night before.

It transpired that the family had been playing with a large blow-up hammer and he had been tapping her on the head, saying "bonk, bonk". There was no case to answer, but the record remained unamended on file, stating that the father was under suspicion for abuse.

Eunice Munro, reader in social policy at the London School of Economics, told MPs that a database would do "more harm than good" because it would use up money and time and distract professionals from improving employees'

skills.

She said cases of child abuse or neglect were usually due to shortcomings in the skills of those trying to help, and not in information sharing. "In the Victoria Climbie case there was no shortage of information. There was a shortage of wisdom about how to deal with the information," she said. "Too much information can make people less competetent. What we need to do is improve the workforce."

The MPs had been to Vancouver, Canada, where a similar child services policy was introduced in the province of British Colombia following the death of a child in 1994. The MPs found that the policy has since been dropped and the Children's Commissioner's role has been downgraded.

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