The government has started to roll out the controversial children's database ContactPoint to local authorities and frontline practitioners nationally.
The database will give an estimated 400,000 people access to personal information of all children under 18 as well as information about their parents, schools and medical records.
The early adopter phase started in January 2009 in 18 local authorities in the North West with it rolling out to a limited number of practitioners in those areas from May 2009. Two national voluntary sector partners - Barnardo's and Kids - also took part in the pilot. The Government expects the rollout of ContactPoint to practitioners, including doctors, nurses, social workers, and police, to continue over the next two years.
Announcing the rollout, the Children's Secretary Ed Balls said: "No system can alone guarantee that all children will be safe, but we know from the support we have had from across the children's workforce that ContactPoint is the right system to make a real difference for professionals and the children in their care."
Training for ContactPoint is now available for local authorities and national partners across England for frontline practitioners, including doctors, nurses, social workers, the police and voluntary sector workers.
ContactPoint is backed by major children's organisations, including the NSPCC, Barnardo's, Action for Children, teachers' union NASUWT as well as the Association of Chief Police Officers, the British Association of Social Workers and the Royal College of General Practitioners.
Martin Narey, Chief Executive of Barnardo's, said: "Barnardo's has been supportive of ContactPoint from the outset because we believe that this initiative has the potential to provide a quick and easy way for professionals to find out who else is working with a child, making it easier for us to spot more children of particular vulnerability. The testing of the scheme in the North West, of which Barnardo's has been a part, has been encouraging and I welcome the announcement that the system will now be rolled out across England."
However, both the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives have pledged to scrap the database and invest the savings into more front line services if they win the general election.
Since the law governing ContactPoint came into force in August 2007, the database has cost £224 million and come under criticism for security breaches and for numerous delays to its launch date. A report in 2007 by auditors Deloitte said the database could never be totally secure.