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Exchanging information relating to children or young people in a child wellbeing and child protection context
This chapter provides guidance about how information can be shared in relation to the safety, welfare and wellbeing of a child or young person under the Act. The care and protection of children and young people is dependent upon shared information and access to accurate, relevant information will assist organisations working with children and young people to assess risks, make decisions and identify and deliver appropriate services.
The legal framework for information exchange allows organisations to share information relating to the safety, welfare or wellbeing of children or young people without consent.
It takes precedence over the protection of confidentiality or of an individual’s privacy because the safety, welfare and wellbeing of children and young people is considered to be paramount. However, while consent is not necessary, it should be sought where possible. Organisations should at a minimum advise children, young people and their families that information may be shared with other organisations.
While it is recognised that an organisation may provide services to a parent e.g. drug and alcohol treatment services, the Guidelines are only intended to provide assistance and/or guidance where there are concerns about the parent’s capacity to ensure the safety, welfare or wellbeing of their child.
In May 2016, legislative changes expanded prescribed bodies under Chapter 16A to include the following private health professionals:
- nurses (enrolled and registered)
- registered medical practitioners
- registered midwives
- registered psychologists
- occupational therapists (other than students)
- speech pathologists (eligible for membership of Speech Pathology Australia).
- an unborn child (if they have been the subject of a report to the Child Protection Helpline or to a Child Wellbeing Unit).
Find out more about exchanging information and private health professionals.
Find out more about requesting information from NSW Health.
Child includes an unborn child where a pre-natal report has been made to Department of Family and Community Services, Community Services under section 25 of the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998.
Child or young person includes a class of children and young persons.
Family includes siblings, birth parents, adoptive parents, grandparents, carers, extended family and other persons significant to the child, young person or family.
Organisation includes prescribed bodies such as public sector organisations (government departments, agencies, authorities, schools) and non-government organisations or service providers.
Worker includes a caseworker, case manager, practitioner, clinician, allied health professional.
The Report of the Special Commission of Inquiry into Child Protection Services in NSW (2008) highlighted the multi-dimensional nature of risks facing vulnerable children and families where factors such as domestic violence, drug and alcohol use or mental health and neglect feature in child protection reporting, none of which can be satisfactorily addressed by any one agency working alone.
The Commission stressed the importance of interagency collaboration in the provision of services to vulnerable children, young people and their families and called for a clear and workable structure for the flow of information to facilitate this collaboration.
The Commission also highlighted the importance of information exchange to help identify cumulative harm from a combination of factors and/or over time. Sometimes it only becomes clear that a child or young person has been harmed, or is at risk, when information from a number of sources is combined to create a complete picture about their circumstances.
The Commission found that the regime of State privacy laws and regulations in place at the time of the Inquiry was a major barrier to interagency work. That regime involved considerable complexity and resulted in reluctance by organisations to exchange information because of doubts about whether or not it was lawful.
The Commission recommended legislative amendments to free up the exchange of information between government and non-government organisations in the human services and justice sectors. The new Chapter 16A in the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 contains those amendments.
Concerns for sensitive nature of information
Another imperative for greater information sharing among human services and justice organisations is the concerns of children and young people themselves.
While they want their privacy to be respected, they do not wish to have to repeat their story to the various government and non-government organisations assisting them. In cases where they may have suffered sexual assault, serious physical abuse or neglect, those children and young people and their carers do not wish to have to relive the trauma with multiple accounts of what happened to them.
Managing information sensitively
Given the sensitive nature of these and other issues that children and young people face it is important to manage information in a sensitive way, and where possible to inform the child or young person early on that information about them might be provided to other organisations.
Fact sheet and related documents:
- Letter for providing information under Chapter 16A
- Checklist for providing information or responding to a Chapter 16A information request
- Letter requesting information under Chapter 16A
- Checklist for requesting information under Chapter 16A
- Letter agreeing to a Chapter 16A request
- Letter declining a Chapter 16A request
- Checklist for receiving information under Chapter 16A