With two children a week dying from abuse, children's minister Margaret Hodge could soon be facing questions about whether lives could have been saved if the systems had been in place sooner, a trade union leader said.
The Children and Family Court Advisory Service (Cafcass) was formally established in April 2001 to represent the interests of children in contested residence and contact cases in the courts.
When it was launched, civil servants believed that an integrated IT system, including a case record management system, would be at the heart of Cafcass, with £20m of the £22.5m start-up costs allocated to IT investment.
Yet the case records system was abandoned and a new system is unlikely to be operational until 2005. Cafcass chairman Anthony Hewson told a Parliamentary select committee earlier this year that if he had continued with the project, "We would have probably ended up in front of the public accounts committee for an IT system that really would not work."
Cafcass now finds itself spending £3.5m a year on IT. It has a modern IT infrastructure but relies on old, standalone PCs to run spreadsheets and paper systems to manage case work.
Harry Fletcher, deputy general secretary of Napo, the union representing many Cafcass staff, said, "It is difficult to find out where the £20m set-up costs have gone. It could be five years before Cafcass has an integrated IT system."