Child Care Information System has ‘surely got to make things safer’

Tusla’s new National Child Care Information System has been many years in the making, but as the Child and Family Agency prepare to finally roll it out across the country, those behind it have given it a ringing endorsement.

“In terms of accountability and responsibility, from a service provider’s point of view and an individual point of view, you can’t hide from it,” according to Niamh Browne, service lead, NCCIS. “Anything that is done on the system is trackable, one way or the other. There are people that can go in deeper and find it.”

Her colleague, Tusla’s head of the programme management office, Fergal Collins, agrees: “It’s surely got to make things safer.”

The long-awaited NCCIS will finally be completely rolled out this year, almost a decade after the first serious work on the system got under way.

A demonstration of the new system provided to the Irish Examiner indicated that the days of missing childcare files could be at an end, with a single integrated operation replacing two old computer systems and paper-based systems still in operation in some areas.

The system was first piloted in the Mid-West and last year saw it rolled out across much of the West and south of the country.

The Midlands will go online with the system this month with the rest of the country to follow, with Dublin — split into five areas for the rollout phase — last to go on-stream.

By the end of June it should be operating in all parts of the country.

It will mark the first time that social workers and others involved in child welfare and protection will have levels of access to children across the country. For example, if a child working with social services in one part of the country suddenly shows up elsewhere, social workers in that area will very quickly be able to access basic information about the child on the system.

Due to data protection elements, access to the full file will still need to be authorised by senior social workers, and virtually every keystroke is recorded and audited. According to Ms Browne, it has been rigorously stress-tested. “You can’t break it and you can’t lose things on it. We have had this since 2014 and we have done our best.”

It is already operating in eight of the 17 Tusla offices, with the ninth ready within days. It has or is replacing two older systems — SWIS and RAISE — and the old paper filing system.

In addition to the easier access to information relating to any child entered into the system, it will also hold protected data on family members in contact with Tusla. It will also quickly indicate whether a child is ‘active’ on Tulsa’s CPNS system or whether they are in care or have a sibling in the system.

Information regarding 84,930 referrals have already been inputted but the team behind it are confident such is the level of data protection, the new system will be more secure than anything used up to now.

As a case management tool, it allows social workers to check their tasks, updates on allocated cases, space to compose case notes and to search nationally. Ms Browne gives an example of a family known to services in Co Clare, but who on moving to Tipperary has denied any previous contact with the care services. The search function on the new system would very quickly allow social workers to ascertain that for themselves.

It should allow for better aggregation of data and has information regarding a child’s education, but no information as to any criminal justice information. It can conceivably be used to continue to track a young person entering aftercare on turning 18, although policy on that has not been finalised. Likewise, it can hold information on retrospective allegations of abuse, but a final decision as to whether this will be permitted on NCCIS or not is due to be taken in the very near future.

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