The Vulnerable Children’s Information System: A case study of a policy and technological innovation in the New Zealand child protection system

Paper presented at #husITa16 in Seoul, Korea, 29 June 2016.


Neil Ballantyne (The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, New Zealand).


In 2012 the New Zealand government published a White Paper for Vulnerable Children outlining a programme of reforms to improve the child protection system and the outcomes for children and young people. The proposed reforms included two significant technological innovations: an information-sharing platform where frontline professionals from different agencies could record and share concerns about children who are considered to be vulnerable to maltreatment; and a predictive risk modelling tool designed to assess the risk of child maltreatment in families on benefits, based on data mined from databases held within the benefit, care and youth justice systems. Together, these developments are referred to as the Vulnerable Children’s Information System. This study aimed to explore the academic and public controversy associated with this government sponsored information system as a case study in public policy and technological innovation. It adopted an actor-network theory perspective in order to trace the controversy associated with the system and used three sources of data: analysis of public documents describing policy and system design; interviews with members of two government advisory groups; content analysis of the academic and public debate associated with the development of the system. Using a narrative analysis of the data the findings uncovered that some key actors held views that were highly polarised, and that others were deeply ambivalent towards system development. The predictive risk modelling tool was, and continues to be, the most controversial aspect of the system and its implementation remains uncertain. The paper will conclude by discussing the importance of open deliberative, democratic debate about the impact of new technological developments in social work, especially when their impact falls disproportionately on the rights of the most disadvantaged



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