A Freedom of Information request by the Children’s Society has revealed that despite Government guidance stipulating that health services and local authorities supply children’s centres with data on new births, 47 per cent of councils fail to do so on a monthly basis.
Almost 10 per cent of local authorities said they provide live birth data to children’s centres quarterly or annually, while more than a third revealed they have not shared data at all at local level.
The findings published in a new report by the charity, ‘The right start: how to access families from birth and support early intervention’, reveal six in ten local authorities do not provide the information because they are unable to obtain the data from local health services.
Another reason many local authorities gave for not sharing live birth data was because they were concerned that this would be considered a breech of data protection without parental consent.
This is because legal guidelines imply that only a minimal amount of data should be transferred without consent, while the NHS also maintains that identifiable data must only be transferred when ‘absolutely necessary', says the charity. However, a number of exemptions apply to the guidance, which the Children's Society claims are unclear and leading to confusion among local authorities.
It follows comments made during a debate on the Children and Families Bill in November 2013, that existing guidance is clear that health services and local authorities should share live birth data information regularly.
The charity argues within its report that the failure of local authorities and health services to share live birth data is making it much harder for children’s centres to do their job.
It says that children’s centres need regular data on births and arrivals so they can contact new families in their local area at the earliest opportunity and ensure they are receiving the support they need.
Also, without this data, children’s centres are unlikely to meet Ofsted targets as the inspectorate expects centres to know of 97 per cent of families with children under five in their area in order to be awarded an outstanding grade.
In light of the findings, the Children’s Society recommends a number of changes be made to policy and practice, including changes to national statutory guidance and the introduction of a data sharing agreement to be adopted and implemented by local authorities.
The charity also calls for local health visitors to be co-located at children’s centres to improve the sharing of information and early identification of hard-to-reach families, and for the Government to encourage local authorities to consider the registration of births in centres.
Val Floy, chief operating officer at the Children's Society, said, ‘The first years in a child’s life are critical in supporting school readiness, learning and development and family relationships, and we know early education and support is particularly important for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
‘By withholding vital data about new births, councils and health services are preventing children’s centres from fulfilling their core purpose to support children in their early years. The authorities should do the right thing and give children’s centres the information they need to do their job.’