A Commons committee of MPs has slammed the Home Office for putting some of the UK's most vulnerable children at risk because the government agency set up to protect them lacks a vital computer system.
The Lord Chancellor's Department Select Committee raised the concerns in a wide-ranging report on the Children and Family Court Advisory Service (Cafcass).
"Cafcass is there to protect vulnerable children at a critical time in their lives. But its first two years have been close to disaster," said committee chairman Alan Beith MP.
The committee said there was an urgent need for an integrated case management system for Cafcass. Senior executives told the committee they had cancelled a case management system project, fearing it would become "another government IT disaster".
"The failure of senior management to recognise and effectively address this need in the two years since the original project was halted is hugely regrettable," the committee noted.
Cafcass executives told the committee that they were tendering for an interim system as part of the development of a full case management system.
The committee responded that while the promise of "incremental development" was a prudent option it was unlikely to ensure the speedy introduction of a much-needed comprehensive case management system.
MPs also slammed the lack of user involvement in the development of new systems and questioned what happened to the money that was allocated for IT, around £6m, when Cafcass was established.
"Since work on the project was halted, minimal progress has been made on the development of appropriate IT systems. New hardware has been delivered to offices, and is used for word processing, e-mail and other office applications.
Crucially, however, there is still no software available which will enable this new hardware to manage and share information about live cases," said MPs.
Simon Hughes, home affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said, "The lack of an integrated casework system at Cafcass is not just an inconvenience, it is wasting staff time and money on a daily basis. As a result we have no accurate picture of how this key public service is operating.”
Commenting before the publication of the select committee report, a Cafcass representative said, “We have decided to develop networked solutions to our case management needs in stages as is good government practice for such IT developments.
The first stage is a networked case recording system, which we have defined, issued to market, and are currently considering tenders from potential suppliers."