Health service abuse database must be comprehensive, urges ADCS

By Neil Puffett

| 03 January 2013

A new alert system to help doctors and nurses spot signs of child abuse must be closely monitored to ensure it is safe to use, the Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS) has warned.

All children in emergency departments will be checked against a database. Image: Morguefile

Under the proposed system doctors and nurses will be able to check whether children they are treating are subject to a child protection plan or are looked after by a local authority.

Although the ADCS has welcomed the concept, it has warned that glitches or a lack of compatibility with existing local authority systems could lead to problems such as information not updating properly.

“This system is designed to pull information from existing systems so I hope they evaluate it to make sure it is always up to date,” ADCS vice president Andrew Webb said.

“If you get a false sense of security as a result of out of date information it could be potentially very dangerous.”

If a child is subject to a child protection plan or is looked after, the system logs details of times they attend accident and emergency departments or urgent care services.

The hope is that it will help services to identify neglect or abuse much earlier as abusers will sometimes take children to different areas for treatment to avoid raising suspicion.

If medical staff have concerns about a child’s welfare, they will be able to contact the relevant local authority.

Calls have also been made for government to improve child protection training for health staff alongside the introduction of the new system.

The NSPCC has warned that “people not processes” make the difference, and the Victoria Climbié Foundation (VCF) has said staff training should be a priority.

“Above all, those who are managing this important system must be equipped with relevant knowledge and training to ensure that appropriate steps are taken until the child is deemed to be safe,” VCF director Mor Dioum said.

“If used effectively, the system provides a good source for information sharing and communication.

“Where a child’s record has been ‘flagged’ it is important for the welfare of the child concerned that any action taken is proportionate to ensure that we do not lose the existing trust between communities and health professionals.”

Work on the database, called Child Protection – Information System, will begin early this year. It is earmarked to be introduced in hospitals by 2015.

Health minister Dan Poulter said: “Up until now, it has been hard for frontline healthcare professionals to know if a child is already listed as being at risk or if children have been repeatedly seen in different emergency departments or urgent care centres with suspicious injuries or complaints, which may indicate abuse.

“Providing instant access to that information means vulnerable and abused children will be identified much more quickly – which will save lives.”

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