Sunday, March 28, 2010

Fostering Files Left in the Street

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Fostering Files Left in the Street

Editor's Note: These people are simply brilliant! This happened in the UK but it could have just as well happened here. Social workers for CPS work there cos no one else wants them. They're incompetency is simply overwhelming.

CONFIDENTIAL information held by social services about children in care has been found on a pavement by a passer-by.

Dozens of sensitive Stoke-on-Trent City Council documents were discovered on a memory stick left in Potteries Way, Hanley, yesterday.

The social services records of foster carers, family court proceedings, parenting assessments, child custody arrangements and the psychological history of youngsters were all included in the files.

The stick was found by IT consultant Gary Fox and reported to The Sentinel before one of our reporters handed it to the council. Now officials have launched an urgent investigation into how the security breach happened.

It is not known whether the social worker had permission to take the memory stick away from the council's offices, or when it went missing.

But the information on the memory stick was not encrypted, which is against the council's own policy.

A council spokesman said: "The safety of children in our care is our priority. We have procedures for ensuring that confidential and sensitive data is kept as secure as possible.

"We will conduct a thorough investigation to determine the circumstances in which the data was lost.

"We thank The Sentinel for returning the data, as situations such as this require immediate attention. The device has been put in a safe place."

Mr Fox, who works in Hanley and lives in Stafford, had picked up the memory stick, which was covered in mud, because a blank one is worth about £10 in a shop.

The 53-year-old said: "I put the memory stick in a computer and realised there were about 40 documents on it.

"I was shocked by the vast amount of confidential information and the fact it wasn't even password protected.

"Public bodies gather information on everyone, but it seems can't be trusted to keep it safe.

"I handed the memory stick to The Sentinel, because people should be aware of how public bodies look after confidential information."

The council will report the breach to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), responsible for regulating the use of personal information.

An ICO spokesman said: "We may serve an enforcement notice if an organisation has failed to comply with any of the data protection principles.

"We have statutory power to impose a financial penalty if there has been a serious breach of data protection."

The security breach has shocked foster carers who rely on such confidential information being kept secure.

Carer Phyllis Hulme, aged 62, of Meir, said: "Everything to do with foster care is meant to be highly confidential.

"We are always told not to mention children's names in meetings or discuss information with anyone. Somebody has slipped up badly here."

Individual councils are responsible for creating their own data protection policies.