Laura Sharman 05 February 2014

Improve data security for vulnerable children, councils told

Sensitive information about vulnerable children is at risk due to 'insecure' links between fostering agencies and councils, a report claims.

Appropriate staff training relating to the management of personal information is lacking, while sensitive data on mobile devices such as laptops and memory sticks often remains unencrypted – the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has found.

Two councils were issued with monetary penalties totalling £150,000 last year after their social services departments lost sensitive data relating to the care of young people.

The ICO said that while breaches of the Data Protection Act could lead to penalties of up to £500,000, the human cost of misplaced sensitive information could be far higher.

Fostering and adoption agencies handle significant amounts of personal data about vulnerable children and are required to share this information with organisations such as councils.

ICO group manager in the Good Practice team, John-Pierre Lamb, said: ‘The work fostering and adoption agencies carry out is vital to helping some of the most vulnerable young people in society. Keeping their sensitive personal information secure must be recognised as an important part of this process and agencies must have the necessary safeguards in place to keep this information safe whether it’s in the office, at home or on the road.’

‘Agencies and the councils they work with should see this report as a wake-up call and take action before it’s too late.’

Chief executive of the Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers, Harvey Gallagher, said: ‘There's clearly much more we could be doing to ensure that information about children and carers is handled securely.

‘The ICO found some good practice with regard to the internal controls put in place by agencies. But the significant challenge is at the interface between local authorities and independent providers where local services are under significant pressure.’

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