LSE Department of Social Policy

Tracking Children
6th April 2004

Tracking children: a road to danger in the Children Bill?

You do not examine legislation in the light of the benefits it will convey if properly administered, but in the light of the wrongs it would do and the harms it would cause if improperly administered.
-Lyndon Johnson

We mean well and do ill, and then justify our ill-doing by our well-meaning.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Action on Rights for Children call for lobby of Government UK-IT Summit

ARCH believes that this event provides the perfect opportunity for families to tell the Government and the media what they think of the database proposed in the Children Bill. The Bill will still be in the House of Lords at that stage, and will be close to moving into the House of Commons.

The Government UK-IT Summit: 'Delivering 21st Century Public Services' claims to be the UK's leading strategic event discussing key IT and communication procurement issues and influencing factors around the e-government agenda.

11.30 a.m - 2.00 p.m Tuesday 11th May
Millennium Hotel, Grosvenor Square, London W1

Please let ARCH (or ring 020 8558 9317) know if you plan to attend


Report from the meeting
Read the papers and presentations from the meeting

The new Children Bill may place children at risk. The information on children in real danger will be hidden in a mass of data on children not at risk of harm. The Bill may foster a culture of record, record, record — and drown professionals in information overload.

This half-day public meeting will assess the Children Bill's attempt to develop a computerised database on all children — to ‘track’ them through life. The Bill’s sponsors believe it will make it easier for professionals to share information about children and their parents. Entrance is free but please let us know if you wish to come to the meeting.

The legislation will authorise the creation of local or national databases, recording basic data on all 11 million children in England and Wales. Professionals will be expected to record ‘any cause for concern’ about the child or a parent on the central file. Government ministers have provided examples of flagging up:

  • a baby’s low weight
  • a child’s poor SATs results
  • a mother’s depression
  • a father’s drink problem
  • ...

This radical development has several ambitious aims:

  1. To identify and protect children like Victoria Climbie who are being seriously abused by their families.
  2. To maximise all children’s potential by identifying and providing effective help,at an early stage, for low level problems of any kind, not just parental abuse.
  3. The government has particularly emphasised the need to identify and intervene with children who are at risk of displaying anti-social behaviour, failing educationally, becoming teenage parents, or suffering ill health.
Will this database help or hinder children?

The meeting will hear from families and professionals about their reactions to the proposed database and provide the opportunity for public debate before the legislation is passed. Margaret Hodge, Minister for Children, will put the Government's case for the Bill - late news Ms Hodge has withdrawn from the meeting, claiming pressure of work, and the DfES has said it is unable to provide either another minister or a civil servant who is willing and able to defend the Government's position to replace her.

With children like Victoria, when abuse is suspected, there is already a complex set of procedures to enable professionals to share information. Doctors and teachers have no hesitation in breaking confidentiality when they think the child may be experiencing harm. In Victoria’s case, mistakes arose from misunderstanding the information, not in failing to share it. So, is lack of information the fundamental problem in each of the categories of problem?

Will warnings about serious cases like Victoria be hidden in a deluge of minor concerns? Does more information lead to better identification and help?

Maybe it is the lack of services that is the fundamental problem in providing help at an early stage. Most parents of children at risk would say that, far from being feckless, they recognised when their child needed help but they could not get it until problems had become severe.

Most parents are loving and caring; the bill suggests that we treat them all with suspicion because a few are dangerous. What harm will it do to family/professional relationships to know that all confidentiality has been removed?

Is this technology that will support better trained and resourced professionals — or is it another mythical silver bullet?

Hong Kong Theatre, Clement House, LSE, Aldwych, WC2 (How to get to LSE)


2.00 - 5.00 p.m. 6th April 2004

Speakers and topics


More information on the Children Bill


Page last updated 1 December, 2004

Page designed and maintained by Mike Cushman, LSE Department of Information Systems