C-me West Lothian

– in the Scottish Parliament at 5:01 pm on 7th September 2006.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 5:01 pm, 7th September 2006

The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-4387, in the name of Mary Mulligan, on C-me West Lothian. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament congratulates West Lothian Council, NHS Lothian, Lothian and Borders Police and the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration for launching the C-me information-sharing system which, at a time when there is a great deal of concern about child protection issues, is an example of agencies working together to create a clear picture of a child's needs through sharing relevant background information and will improve the delivery of services to children throughout West Lothian.

Photo of Mary Mulligan Mary Mulligan Labour 5:07 pm, 7th September 2006

I have been told to talk quickly, for some reason. I thank the members who have stayed for the debate.

Unfortunately, we are all too well aware of the dreadful child deaths that have been reported in recent years, when children such as Caleb Ness and Kennedy McFarlane lost their lives and individual agencies were left to ask, "How could this happen again?" Every time, communication has been central to problems that had not been resolved. We should clearly acknowledge that child protection is complicated and that many people are doing their best to protect a child. However, if their work and information is not joined up, the gaps in the system can result in a child being injured or killed.

What can be done? In West Lothian, which includes my constituency of Linlithgow, the West Lothian community health and care partnership, which includes social policy, housing and education services and NHS Lothian, is working in partnership with Lothian and Borders police, the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration and general practitioners on the roll-out of systems, services and training to promote the use of C-me, which supports child protection and assists in early identification, intervention, integrated assessment and planning for children.

The information that is available includes records from the social work, community information and health systems. It includes two schools systems, the general practice administration system for Scotland—GPASSWest Lothian Council's inquiry tracking system and records from the academy housing database and the social services information database—SSID. There are so many systems that it is no wonder that it has been hard to bring them all together.

C-me gives access to many more than 500,000 records from partnership agencies for the West Lothian population of 170,000, but the information can be used only when consent to share information has been established for a child or adult, or if there is justification for overriding consent, such as for child protection. Otherwise, users of the system can access only records that are normally available from their own agencies. That addresses the concern that existed about people's right to confidentiality.

C-me contains a number of information-sharing elements that are designed to support the delivery of joined-up children's services across a number of professional agencies that work around children. It is built around a child index. The index is a searchable client database with pre-matched records that show the key demographics of all children in the West Lothian region. It shares basic information details about individuals, such as their name, address, date of birth and general practitioner, which enables easy confirmation that the contact details are correct and allows information relating to the record to be tracked, shared and managed appropriately. Contact details of linked universal professionals—such as school doctors and principal teachers—are prominently displayed against each child's record. Crucially, a chronology of significant events, positive outcomes and relevant factors, and a referral and assessment history for each child from all the host systems is available, which allows users of the system to see at a glance the background of any individual on the system. The chronologies are perceived as being a particularly important aspect of the information-sharing system because they enable practitioners to see emerging patterns of events, which can lead to earlier identification of risks, appropriate interventions and the prevention of harm.

The system will provide a secure messaging facility to allow the teams of professionals who are working with children and families to communicate readily with one another and share relevant reports and information. Secure messaging allows the confidential transfer of sensitive information about a case, and there is the ability to add reports and plans as attachments where doing so is relevant. Once information is collated, it can be securely shared across agencies within the team that is working around the child.

Unfortunately, too many other facilities are being provided for me to go into now, so I will simply list them. There is an electronic directory of children's services, automatic alert notification, permission-based security, electronic interagency referral discussion forms and caseload management. In order to deliver benefit and best value, those elements have been configured for the future performance of the children's integrated assessment framework. The C-me system is configured to support the three streams of child protection, complex needs and additional support for learning, which are the indispensable foundations of an integrated package of support and care around the child.

In West Lothian, the first tranche of 200 users from all the partnerships has been trained and has access to C-me. Training is essential if the opportunities that have been presented are to be taken. The first group that has been introduced to C-me includes community nurses in the children's sector, senior social policy personnel, key education professionals, administration teams in the Armadale cluster in my constituency, and—crucially—the child protection unit in Lothian and Borders police.

A user feedback has been incorporated into the plan so that we can receive feedback on how the system works in practice from people who already use it. People in West Lothian will work closely with our colleagues in various divisions of the Scottish Executive. I promised them that I would remind the minister that the system is good, but that it still needs to be financially supported. There are issues relating to financial support, not only for West Lothian Council, but for other local authorities that want to take the system on board.

I bring this issue before MSPs today to congratulate those in West Lothian who are involved in C-me's development and its use, and also to ask that we share good practice. We have 32 local authorities in Scotland; we do not need each of them to reinvent the wheel on every issue. Let us share good practice. I would be delighted to hear of other people's examples.

Time is crucial to this issue. No one wants to hear of other children suffering because we have not managed to find a way to work together. I commend West Lothian's C-me information-sharing system to the Parliament.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party 5:15 pm, 7th September 2006

I congratulate Mary Mulligan on securing the debate. Child protection is one of the most serious issues that we have to deal with in the Parliament.

The minister will know, from his time on the Education Committee, of my long-held interest in child protection. During the committee's inquiry into the Executive's progress in delivering on its child protection agenda, an issue that came up time and again was the need to share information. Shared information and information technology systems will not, however, protect children; people will protect children.

In having this debate and in focusing on this agenda, it is important that we consider the risk for children. Too often in the chamber—usually when it is busier than this—we talk about child protection in relation to stranger danger as opposed to the problems that arise when children are at risk from people whom they know. The vast majority of children who are at risk are at risk from people whom they know. The people who can make the decisions to intervene are those who have contact with the families, whether through the health service, through social work or through education. That is why having shared information is vital.

There is a wider agenda of child protection and about drugs workers thinking about the child within the family. We have had debates on that and concerns have been expressed—not least by the First Minister—about how children from drug-misusing families are identified and supported. The danger of women underreporting the fact that they have a drug problem because their children might be taken away from them is still with us, and I hope that we can have a considered debate on that.

We must also have a serious debate about risk in general. We do not want to wrap our children in cotton wool or to have an explosion of Big Brother back-watching that protects the agencies but does not necessarily deliver for the children. I heard worrying feedback from somebody who said that when drugs workers visited a drug-misusing adult, the first thing that they would ask about was their sexual behaviour, not whether they had children. In the past, the main concern of drugs workers was the transmission of health risks, not whether there was a child in the family. I hope that the training has improved that situation. That switch in thinking is as important as the IT systems that surround it.

A crucial concern, which I raised in our debate on "Hidden Harm: Responding to the needs of children of problem drug users", is the recommendation in the report of the child protection audit and review, "It's everyone's job to make sure I'm alright", on having a national information system. We know that national computer systems that are run by Government run into big problems: we heard only this week about the collapse of one such system. Perhaps a more localised approach could help. However, one of the concerns that has been raised, following the experience of the tragic cases that we have had, is the fact that vulnerable children are often moved, which makes them more vulnerable. Therefore, the system cannot be localised to just one area.

I support Mary Mulligan's plea for the Executive to reconsider the funding for such systems. I had a meeting in the Parliament with representatives from the City of Edinburgh Council and NHS

Lothian who were very concerned, following the publication of the O'Brien report, that they desperately needed a system, which I understand they will pilot from the C-me system. They were worried about the funding for that system because child protection was being treated as a national issue and systems were being piloted, at that time, in Aberdeen and Lanarkshire—in the "Hidden Harm" debate, Hugh Henry mentioned the fact that something was happening in Lanarkshire. Meanwhile, other authorities were left wanting to do something. They did not want to use their own resources, as they knew that a national resource was coming. They thought that they might be able to use part of the efficient government funding, but they were not sure about that. In the meantime, councils are having to take responsibility for developing such systems.

I congratulate West Lothian on what it has done. I know that the people there are not backwards in coming forward to use IT systems. Indeed, I visited the Strathbrock partnership centre in Broxburn about five years ago to see the work that it does with care of the elderly, which links up health, social work and so on, and I remember saying at that time, "This would be ideal for children and child protection." I am glad that the participants in C-me are getting national recognition in the Parliament.

We get a regular, six-monthly check on outputs from the Government, but can the minister give us the latest details on progress? How can systems such as C-me be used throughout the country, so that we have a national link-up, without worries and concerns being created that, all of a sudden, there will be an identity system for all children? The system is very much about protection for vulnerable children. We need progress and we need to keep at it because the system is helping to protect children who are at risk from people in their own homes; such children represent the vast majority of children who are at risk.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green 5:20 pm, 7th September 2006

I thank Mary Mulligan and congratulate her on bringing this short debate to the chamber this evening.

It is important that we share good practice, and West Lothian Council has a lot of good practice. Recently, West Lothian won a best council of the year award for its overall performance and it is clear that it is taking the lead with the C-me project. When we are handling confidential information, it is important that we develop systems that people can be confident and comfortable in using. From the description that Mary Mulligan gave us, it certainly seems that people will be confident and comfortable working with the C-me system and that the confidentiality of the information will be preserved, with information being shared only among those people who need to see it and have proper permission to use it.

I can see great advantages in the system across the board, in terms of child protection, and further up the scale. West Lothian has done some super work with children as young carers, but there is a big problem with children who have been in care when it comes to them leaving care. I would think that a system such as C-me would be useful when people are assisting children through the difficult period of transition from being in care to living fully independent lives. For those who are still at any kind of risk, it will be useful for that kind of information, where appropriate, to be shared.

I congratulate Mary Mulligan and I congratulate West Lothian Council on this very important system.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

I appreciate Robin Harper's comments, but does he agree that we should urge the Parliament to have a broader debate on risk issues, perhaps on a day when we do not have an interesting visitor addressing the Labour group? Perhaps more of the Labour members could then join Mary Mulligan and contribute to the debate.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

Fiona Hyslop is absolutely right. We need further debate on the matter. I did not realise that Mary Mulligan was in a rush to go and listen to that very important person, so I shall terminate my remarks at this point.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I assume, Mr Brown, that they are all referring to you. [ Laughter. ]

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat 5:24 pm, 7th September 2006

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I have an uneasy feeling about who people are talking about when references are made to "Mr Brown this" and "Mr Brown that." I join others in congratulating Mary Mulligan on obtaining this evening's debate. She is right to remind us of what lies behind the sometimes obscure and technical issues about information sharing; I refer to the welfare of children against a background, sometimes, of nasty events that have taken place in the past. She is also right to talk about the important and difficult issue of confidentiality and the importance of training. Those aspects have emerged through all the developments that have taken place.

I welcome the C-me initiative, which has been in operation since May of this year, if I am not mistaken. It seems to be a good example of multi-agency co-operation. Today, as it happens, I was over the road at Our Dynamic Earth launching another aspect of the child protection agenda relating to the pathfinder initiatives with regard to the domestic abuse agenda, which is not unconnected to the issue that we are talking about. It is heartening to have concrete examples in which working together is working on the ground.

I am aware of the hard work that has gone into the development. Dr Helen Hammond and her team and professionals and managers from the agencies in West Lothian have embraced the organisational issues that are associated with the type of working that is involved. However, the challenge is to ensure that their work ties in with other related developments, particularly the work of the pan-Lothian data-sharing partnership.

As members will be aware, Tom McCabe wrote to national health service and local authority chief executives and chief constables in January to ask them to establish multi-agency data-sharing partnerships. There are now 14 of those partnerships throughout Scotland, each of which is based on a health board area. That echoes Fiona Hyslop's point about the national and the local. The role of the partnerships is to manage the electronic sharing of personal data using the e-care framework securely, legally and appropriately. I have some knowledge of the policy aspects, but I confess that I must leave it to others to explain and be knowledgeable about the more detailed and complex issues.

The Lothian partnership involves NHS Lothian, all four councils in the area and Lothian and Borders police. We see the partnerships as an essential element in making progress with the information-sharing agenda. A key challenge for West Lothian will be to ensure that its approach and technical solution connect to wider Lothian developments and, as Fiona Hyslop rightly said, to developments beyond that, bearing in mind people's propensity to move about. Work must continue throughout Lothian on the delivery of an information-sharing infrastructure that will protect children and other vulnerable people.

Members have made the point that the developments have come at a time when most people accept the need for better multi-agency co-operation, integration and sharing of information. The Executive's child protection agenda has produced a considerable drive to ensure that that happens more effectively than it sometimes has in the past. As Mary Mulligan rightly said, poor information sharing has been at the heart of, and a contributory factor to, several cases of catastrophic child protection failure. The Education Committee has flagged up the importance of co-operation to effective child protection, an issue on which Fiona Hyslop touched. We have all been concerned to address those issues.

Mary Mulligan mentioned the use of a chronology of significant events. I know from my experience as convener of the Education Committee and since then that that has been a major recommendation of various inquiries and of investigations into the child protection structure, although it has been difficult to implement the system effectively throughout the country. I am glad to learn that that is one of the successful features of the arrangements in West Lothian.

Information sharing is a tool but, at the end of the day, what we do with the information is important. The getting it right for every child agenda is designed to promote and support multi-agency working, information sharing and co-operation. A linked issue is the importance of introducing early legislative provision to deal with situations when a child is at risk, which is why such measures will be part of the proposed legislation to implement Sir Michael Bichard's recommendations, which will be introduced to Parliament later this month.

The getting it right for every child reforms are about ensuring that children get the help that they need, when they need it. That help must be appropriate, proportionate and timely. If we have the information-sharing arrangements right, that is much more likely to happen. The getting it right team is already supporting pathfinder activity in the Highlands, as well as domestic abuse activity, which I mentioned. The aim is to develop tools to improve integrated practice, which is easy to say but much more difficult to bring about in an effective and worthwhile fashion.

Any initiative such as that in West Lothian is to be encouraged. We can learn a good deal from the positive activity there—people have considered the issues and tried to find solutions to them and worked that through. Their experience can be fed into the national activities, to allow others to learn from it. We know that by improving the quality and speed of information sharing, we can make better decisions—which is the aim—and act more quickly to help. The C-me development and others will show the way for that to happen. The Executive is interested in working with West Lothian as learning partners to share lessons and continue the progress. That will no doubt include discussions about the funding issues that members have mentioned. I thank Mary Mulligan for bringing the debate to the Parliament.

Meeting closed at 17:30.