The government has quietly slipped out an announcement of plans for a single national database holding social services case notes and details of vulnerable children.
Children's minister Kevin Brennan said the decision to put the sensitive case note files on a single national system - dubbed the Electronic Common Assessment Framework (eCAF) - was made after "input from stakeholders" and five local pilot schemes.
But the plans were announced without fanfare and buried in a slew of other government notices issued immediately before the parliamentary recess.
The database is aimed at allowing social services staff and other agencies working with vulnerable children to collaborate, provide more integrated services and offer earlier interventions. But the central pooling of sensitive information about children is likely to be controversial.
Last month, the government signed a £224m deal with Capgemini to build a separate database – known as ContactPoint - which will hold basic details of every child in England and Wales from birth to age 18. This will be accessible to more than 330,000 education, health, social care and youth justice professionals.
ContactPoint, which will cost another £41m a year to run, is being set up to meet child protection recommendations made in 2003 after the death of Victoria Climbié. But MPs and peers have raised questions about data protection and security.
The eCAF system will hold much more detailed and sensitive information, based on professional assessments of vulnerable children.
Along with names, dates and addresses, the records will include ethnicity and immigration details, a description of the child's family structure and a summary of the child's assessed needs and professional interventions. The national eCAF system will also be enabled to share data from other case management systems.
Brennan said the information would be held only with consent and for a limited period of time. He added: "Children, young people, or where appropriate their parents or carers will be able to ask to see their records and to challenge any inaccuracies, in accordance with data protection legislation."
The system will use proven technology and run on a single nationally hosted infrastructure that all practitioners will use. Data is to be held in a single physical location. It will meet "rigorous security standards", with access granted only to authorised users who have passed criminal record and other checks, Brennan said.
The children's minister said the scheme, which will cost £44.5m to implement over the next six years and £6.4m a year in operating costs, would be fully funded by the government, to prevent pressure on local authority council tax bills.
Efficiency gains from reducing the number of unnecessary repeat assessments of children and inappropriate referrals or interventions, would "yield savings estimated at £150m over the first eight years from the inception of the national system", Brennan pledged. The money would be pumped back into children's services, he added.