- The Child Information Sharing Scheme encourages information sharing entities to share information and collaborate with each other to better promote the wellbeing and safety of children in partnership with children and their families.
- Children and their families are often well-placed to understand their needs and risks. Before requesting and disclosing information, information sharing entities should:
- inform children and families of their obligation to share information and inform them each time their information is shared – whenever it is appropriate, safe and reasonable to do so
- seek and take into account the views of the child or the relevant family members about sharing their confidential information – whenever it is appropriate, safe and reasonable to do so.
- Professionals should be aware of their own preconceptions and biases when engaging with children and families navigating identities, backgrounds or circumstances different to their own.
- Communicating clearly and openly with children and families about information sharing, including the purpose and likely benefits of sharing, can promote positive engagement with services, draw out additional considerations and enable professionals to form a more holistic view of a child’s circumstances and needs.
Informing the child and family about information sharing
In accordance with the legislative principles, information sharing entities should seek to maintain constructive and respectful engagement with children and their families.
Engaging children and their families with appropriate support services is an important aspect of promoting children’s wellbeing and safety. When approached in a respectful, supportive and accountable manner, information sharing can be a way for professionals to collaborate to maximise benefits for children and families. It can facilitate access for children and their families to the services they need, ensure relevant expertise is available and enable tailored and responsive service provision.
Maintaining a child and their family’s engagement with services can be encouraged by being transparent and accountable and informing children and their families about the information sharing entity’s obligations under the Child Information Sharing Scheme. This should include explaining the threshold that needs to be met before information can be shared and who information can be shared with.
Information sharing entities should explain their obligations to share information under the Child Information Sharing Scheme (as well as other relevant laws) to the child and their family as close as possible to the commencement of their engagement with the service.
Discussing information sharing with children and their families provides an opportunity to explain the benefits of information sharing and identify any concerns.
This discussion should include explaining:
- the threshold that needs to be met before information can be shared
- who information can be shared with
- that the information sharing entity will seek the views of the child and/or any relevant family members about information sharing whenever it is appropriate, safe and reasonable to do so
- that those views will be taken into account in relation to information sharing
- that consent is not required to share information if the information sharing entity considers sharing would promote the wellbeing or safety of a child
- the benefits of information sharing and how information may be used to promote child wellbeing or safety.
When sharing a person’s information under the Child Information Sharing Scheme, information sharing entities should make reasonable efforts to notify that person as soon as practicable. However, information sharing entities should not provide notification if doing so would be contrary to the promotion of the wellbeing or safety of a child or may pose a serious threat to a person’s life, health, safety or welfare.
See Chapter 4 for more information on notification requirements under other laws.
Some children and families may be concerned about their information being shared. This could affect their willingness to disclose information and may impact their continued engagement with services. Concerns about information sharing raised by a child or their family should be considered and discussed with them. Discussing these concerns may help to inform the assessment of any risks to children’s wellbeing and safety and help to avoid unintended outcomes of information sharing.
Seeking the views of a child or family member about information sharing
A child or young person and their family are likely to have a unique understanding of what may promote the wellbeing or safety of that child, and whether information sharing under the Child Information Sharing Scheme may assist in providing better services. This is particularly important where children and families are navigating identities, backgrounds or circumstances different to that of the professional.
Providing children and their families with opportunities to express their views about information sharing, and inform the process of information sharing, is important to promoting constructive and respectful engagement with services.
Information sharing entities should seek the views of the child or relevant family members at the start of service engagement and in each instance of information sharing whenever it is appropriate, safe and reasonable to do so. This is because a child or family member’s views about information sharing may change over the duration of their engagement with a service provider. Personal circumstances, the nature and maturity of the relationship between the professional and client, the anticipated outcomes of sharing information or the phase of service delivery may influence the child or family member’s views about their information being shared. Seeking the views of the child or family member each time information is shared under the scheme may also assist the professional to assess the dynamic wellbeing and safety needs of children and young people.
Professionals should be mindful that the specific circumstances of a child or family can impact on their response to the prospect of information sharing and their willingness to directly raise concerns. For example, a lack of cultural safety, concern about homophobia, lack of adequate communication support for a person with disability or concern about being reported to statutory authorities may limit what a child or family member will share.
Some children and families may appear to agree to the sharing of information even when they have concerns, in order to avoid perceived or actual negative consequences. They may also disengage from a service entirely rather than express disagreement. It is important that information sharing entities support and encourage the expression of any concerns, doubts or anxieties and respond sensitively, with due consideration of the circumstances children and families may be facing.
There are some cases where it may not be appropriate, safe and reasonable to seek the views of the child or family. This may occur:
- If it is inappropriate: for example, if a young person is living independently and family members no longer have access to their personal information.
- If it is unsafe: for example, if it is likely to jeopardise a child’s wellbeing or safety or place another person at risk of harm.
- If it is unreasonable: for example, if the child or their relevant family member is not currently a client of the information sharing entity or there is urgency to share the information and the child or family cannot be reached.
There are requirements to record the views of children and parents, and whether they have been informed about their information being shared. See Chapter 5 for record keeping requirements under the scheme.
Considerations for seeking the views of a child or young person
A child or young person may have extra insight of the issues affecting their own wellbeing or safety and preferences for how those issues should be disclosed. The inclusion of children and young people in decisions about sharing their information can empower them to contribute to their own wellbeing and safety. It can also assist the information sharing entity to avoid unintended outcomes.
The age, maturity and circumstances of the child or young person should help determine if it is appropriate, safe and reasonable to seek their views, and if so, how these views might best be sought and taken into account. Children and young people of all ages may be capable of expressing views about information sharing and professionals should provide appropriate support for them to do so.
This may include using different communication techniques (such as pictures or simple language) or providing additional support for younger children or children from marginalised groups, such as children who do not speak English as a first language or children with a disability.
Young people and older children in particular are likely to be able to contribute to decisions about their wellbeing and safety, including decisions about how their information is shared. Their views should be given due weight by professionals.
Information sharing entities should also consider whether seeking a child or young person’s views in relation to information sharing might increase risk to the child or another person, in which case it may not be appropriate, safe or reasonable to do so.
Professionals should use their judgement to assess whether a child or young person requires a family member to participate in a discussion about information sharing, prioritising the wellbeing and safety of that child or young person.
Considerations for seeking the views of a child’s relevant family members
If the professional forms the view that it is appropriate, safe and reasonable to seek the views of a relevant family member or members, they should explain the process for sharing information under the Child Information Sharing Scheme and listen to any concerns that the family member may have. This discussion may assist professionals to make more informed decisions about information sharing and the services they deliver to better respond to the needs and risks of the child in their broader family context.
In having these conversations with children and their family members, information sharing entities will often want to discuss the confidential information they are proposing to share. Information sharing entities must take care to ensure that any information sharing that occurs during these conversations is authorised under the scheme or other laws (see Chapter 4 – Relationship of the scheme with other laws, for more information). For example, disclosure of a person’s own information to the person or their guardian is authorised under law, while disclosure of a third party’s information may not be.
In some cases, a professional may form a view that it is not appropriate, safe or reasonable to seek the views of a relevant family member. This may occur where a young person is able to make their own decisions, for example a young person who may be living independently or who may be a parent themselves. If a family member is a perpetrator or alleged perpetrator of any form of abuse (including family violence), then it would not be appropriate, safe or reasonable to seek their views.
Whether an information sharing entity should seek the views of a child’s relevant family members may also depend on the nature of the relationship between the information sharing entity and that child or young person. If an information sharing entity works directly with a child or young person, without parental participation, it may not be appropriate, safe or reasonable for a family member to be involved. Alternatively, if parental participation is a key component of the service delivery (or if a service is provided primarily to adults), it may be more appropriate for the information sharing entity to continue to involve parents when seeking views about information sharing.
There may be situations in which a child and their parents disagree about information sharing. In this instance, information sharing entities should use their professional judgement to balance different points of view and take these perspectives into account when determining what would best promote the child’s wellbeing or safety.
Why seek the views of the child and relevant family members?
- Victoria is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which explicitly protects the right of a child to express their views freely in all matters affecting them, and to have those views given due weight in accordance with their age and maturity when making decisions that affect the child. Aim to do “with” the child, not “to” the child.
- The requirement to seek the views of the child under the scheme promotes the child’s agency. The requirement to “take into account” (rather than “adopt”) the views of the child allows for exercise of professional judgment taking into account the particular circumstances of a child.
- The Victorian Charter of Human Rights recognises families as the fundamental group unit of society. The Charter also recognises that families are entitled to be protected by society and the State.
- Family and child wellbeing are inextricably linked. Under the legislative principles you should seek to preserve and promote positive relationships between a child and the child’s family members and persons of significance to the child.
- Seeking the views of relevant family members may assist in identifying risks to the child, including any risks of sharing information.
- Decisions about whether to include family members in a conversation, and which family members to include, should always be made in line with the child’s best interests. See “Who should be involved in the conversation?” below.
When to seek the views of the child and relevant family members?
- Whenever safe, reasonable and appropriate, seek the views of the child and relevant family members about information sharing at the start of service engagement, after you have explained your obligations to share information and the applicable thresholds and principles.
- In each instance of information sharing you should (whenever safe, reasonable and appropriate) seek the child and relevant family members’ views about sharing information before deciding:
- whether sharing the information will promote the wellbeing or safety of the child
- if so, what information to share, how to share, when to share, and with whom.
Examples - Circumstances where it may not be safe, reasonable or appropriate to seek views
You should proceed on the basis that it is safe, reasonable and appropriate to seek the child and/or any relevant family members’ views, unless you are aware of indications that it may be unsafe or particular circumstances exist making it unreasonable or inappropriate.
What information is relevant to seeking the views of the child and relevant family members?
- Seek the child and relevant family members’ views (wherever safe, reasonable and appropriate) about any sharing that may take place to promote the child’s wellbeing or safety. This includes proposed sharing of the child’s and/or family members’ information and/or the information of third parties. Information sharing entities must take care to ensure that any information sharing that occurs during these conversations is authorised under the scheme or other laws. For example, disclosure of a person’s own information to the person or their guardian is authorised under law, while disclosure of a third party’s information may not be.
Who should seek the views of the child and relevant family members?
- Wherever possible a person from the information sharing entity with an ongoing positive relationship with the child should be included in the conversation. This may not always be a person who has information sharing responsibilities in an organisation. For example, where an assistant principal has been identified by the school as the person responsible for sharing under the scheme, the appropriate person to have a conversation about information sharing with a child might be their home room teacher, sport teacher or school counsellor.
- You should also include relevant family members in the conversation (wherever safe, reasonable and appropriate).
- The main purpose for including family members in the conversation is to promote the wellbeing and safety of the child, by promoting and preserving the role of the family member in fostering the wellbeing and safety of the child and the family unit. Family members who are most closely connected to the child’s wellbeing and safety are the most relevant family members to include in a conversation about sharing information about a child or any other person, in relation to the child’s wellbeing or safety.
- Where a child’s views will not be sought because it is unsafe, unreasonable or inappropriate to do so, seeking a relevant family member’s views (where safe, reasonable or appropriate) may be an increased priority if this may support the child’s wellbeing or safety.
How to seek the views of the child and relevant family members?
- Plan in advance how you will conduct the conversation. If the person who will have the conversation is not the person who will be directly involved in decision-making and sharing the information, decide who will be present for the conversation. For example, the person who has the relationship with the child and/or relevant family members may:
- conduct the conversation on their own and report back to the staff member responsible for sharing
- lead the conversation with the responsible sharer present, or
- introduce the responsible sharer and be present while the responsible sharer leads the conversation.
- If you are including relevant family members in the conversation, determine in advance how you will approach this. It may be appropriate to seek the views of relevant family members before the conversation with the child, to gauge their support and plan the engagement with the child, for example if a strong negative reaction is anticipated from the child and the relevant family member’s views are not known. Alternatively, it may be appropriate to first engage the child and then consider together whether or how to seek the views of relevant family members. This may be the case where a child is older and is independently making sound decisions about an issue, and the family’s views are likely to be in conflict with the child’s.
What does it mean to “take into account” the views of the child and relevant family members?
- It is not enough to simply gather the views of the child and relevant family members. You should take these views into account. That is, actively incorporate them when you are deciding whether, what, when and how much to share, and who to share with, wherever possible.
- Factors to consider when taking into account a child’s views include their age, their maturity, their vulnerability, their ability to clearly express their views, and their competence to understand the nature and consequences of particular decisions. For example, an information sharing entity may give significant weight to the views of a mature young person aged 17 who expresses a clear wish not to include their family members in a conversation about information sharing. See also Considerations for seeking the views of a child or young person.
- The views of the child and relevant family members can be a significant part of deciding whether sharing would promote the wellbeing or safety of the child. In exceptional circumstances the benefits of sharing information may be overridden by strong indications that the sharing would negatively affect the wellbeing or safety of the child, for example a strong likelihood of service disengagement. In all cases you should consider whether you can reduce the possible harm of sharing by managing the risk so that it is safe to share.
- Where there are significant concerns about sharing information, consider the following options, which may be appropriate, depending on the full set of circumstances surrounding the child.
- Validate concerns and reinforce the specific benefits of sharing the information in an age appropriate way.
- Identify any misunderstandings about the process that may be causing concern and provide further information to address this.
- What and how you share and who you share with may be adjusted based on views expressed, as determined in the best interests of the child.
Keeping records about seeking the views of children and relevant family members (refer to Record keeping and information management)
- There are a range of record keeping requirements under the scheme. The information below only highlights the requirements relating to seeking and taking into account the views of the child and/or relevant family members.
- You must record:
- whether the views of the child and/or their relevant family members were sought
- whether the views of the child and/or their relevant family members were obtained
- whether the child and/or their parent was informed that their information was or would be disclosed.
- It is good practice to record:
- whose views were sought
- what the views of the child and/or relevant family members were about sharing the information (if obtained)
- how the views were taken into account
- if the child and/or parent was not notified that their information was or would be shared, the reason for this.
When recording this information make sure you do it in a sensitive way. Do not use judgmental or stigmatising language. Distinguish between factual information and opinion.
Sharing information respectfully and maintaining engagement
Some children and families may not have had positive experiences with services in the past. This may include experiencing stigma or discrimination, or facing challenges in accessing appropriate services that met their needs. This could be the case for children and families from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, children with a disability, children from other cultural backgrounds, children who use violence or who have been involved with the justice system. In some cases, there may be a risk of service disengagement associated with sharing information about a child or family member.
Professionals should be mindful of these issues and factor them into consideration of whether information sharing meets the requirement to promote the wellbeing or safety of a child under the Child Information Sharing Scheme’s threshold for sharing. If there is significant concern about service disengagement, information sharing entities should carefully consider what information should be shared and when, prioritising the wellbeing and safety of any children involved. Sharing information in a selective and appropriate manner may be particularly important in small communities such as rural and remote areas.
For services working primarily with adults, if the adult is also a parent or carer, information sharing entities should share information to promote the wellbeing and safety of the child or children within that family, whilst continuing to engage with the adult. Information sharing entities will use professional judgement to balance various wellbeing and safety considerations for children, in order to determine whether the threshold for sharing has been met. Any decision to limit sharing should be considered very carefully, given a lack of information sharing between professionals has been identified as a significant contributing factor to risk and harm to children.
The Child Information Sharing Scheme may actively help to promote service engagement and minimise the risk of stigma or discrimination. Increased collaboration between relevant services and specialists may equip services to respond to the specific needs and risks of each individual child, including consideration of their identity, community and circumstances. For example, consultation with an Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation may assist a Maternal and Child Health service to determine how information should be shared to promote the wellbeing and safety of a particular Aboriginal child within their family context. This could include improving cultural safety and providing other support to improve outcomes and maintain the family’s engagement with the service.
To appropriately consider the circumstances and identities of child and family members when sharing information under the scheme, professionals should:
- acknowledge and build on the strengths and capabilities of children, young people and families, including taking into account their views if appropriate, safe and reasonable to do so, as outlined in this Chapter
- work to build trust by being open and transparent about information sharing and keep the child and family informed as outlined in this Chapter
- build a mutually respectful relationship by acknowledging and showing respect for the child or young person’s individuality, identity and experiences
- reflect on your personal biases and how this might impact upon the understanding or assumptions made about a child or young person’s needs or capabilities
- acknowledge and respond to concerns or complaints in a timely and respectful manner
- if possible, engage with specialist services or professionals who are appropriately qualified to support the particular needs of the child or young person if required.