The Children Act 2004 was passed following the government's formal response to the report into the death of Victoria Climbié, providing the legislative spine for more effective and accessible services for children, young people and families.
Shortly afterwards, the Children's National Service Framework (CNSF) was published, incorporating Every Child Matters: Change for Children.
Social care for children
The Every Child Matters initiative aimed to make it easier to monitor children from birth to age 19, but it did not fully address how to effectively share data. We are only now seeing these bodies come together to use IT to better protect the young and vulnerable, but this will be impossible until there is adequate funding and stringent protocols.
The social housing sector could be more proactive, and improvements could be made by examining working practices. The Anti Social Behaviour and Supporting People agenda has meant that social housing bodies are collecting sensitive data, but they are not yet sufficiently integrated to share this.
The first stumbling block is the Data Protection Act. The Victoria Climbié Inquiry stated, "Unless a child is deemed to be in need of protection, information cannot be shared between agencies without staff running the risk that their actions are unlawful."
The CNSF acknowledges this problem, but it does not offer clear guidelines on improving communication between the NHS and social care organisations.
The NHS National Programme for IT is attempting to deal with some of these issues with its Integrated Care Records Service, which hopes to implement fully-integrated, patient-centric records across healthcare and social services.
But few councils and associated bodies have moved on information sharing. Currently, explicit patient consent is required, which is too time-consuming. Moreover, in the case of an allegedly abused child, how likely is it that the guardian will grant access to the records?
Another decision is what patient identifier should be used by health and social care organisations. The NHS number has been recommended, but this requires access to the NHS Strategic Tracing Service. The government has not yet stated whether social housing organisations are to be granted this access.
Connectivity to NHSnet is no longer an issue, as social services departments now have "NHS entity" status. However, developing interoperability standards requires sustained government attention.
Opportunities for IT
IT suppliers will respond if there is a proven market for their services. Scanning, indexing, cross-referencing and pulling together all social care, social housing and healthcare data on a single client on to one screen is quite simple, and requires no technology development or additional funds.
It would be a shame if plans for information sharing were scrapped, but it is looking a possibility.
Ian Lever is director of social housing consultancy at NCC Group