The Child Information Sharing Scheme assists professionals and organisations to better perform their roles and responsibilities by clarifying and expanding the circumstances in which they can share information to promote the wellbeing and safety of children.
The scheme is intended to facilitate services working together to identify needs and risks, promote earlier, more effective support for children and families, and encourage integrated service provision, to improve outcomes for children and families.
The Child Information Sharing Scheme has been developed in response to numerous independent reviews and inquiries over the past decade.1 These inquiries have recommended streamlining Victoria’s information sharing arrangements to improve outcomes for children by promoting shared responsibility for their wellbeing and safety and increasing collaboration across the service system. They also identified the need to change a risk-averse culture, which has resulted in some professionals being hesitant to share information even when it would benefit children to do so.
In recognition of the necessity for services to provide a holistic response to the range of needs and risks experienced by children and families, this scheme complements the Family Violence Information Sharing Scheme authorised by Part 5A of the Family Violence Protection Act 2008.
To share information to identify, assess and manage the risk of family violence to children or adults, while promoting children’s wellbeing and safety, the two schemes must be used together in conjunction with the Multi-Agency Risk Assessment and Management Framework (MARAM Framework).
The Child Information Sharing Scheme also complements and supports child and family service reforms, The Orange Door Network and other child safety legislation, including the Child Safe Standards and Reportable Conduct Scheme.
These reforms share a common purpose:
- to drive cultural and practice change to place the wellbeing and safety of children at the centre of service delivery; and
- to focus on prevention and earlier support to protect children and assist them to thrive and develop.
The Child Information Sharing Scheme is complemented by the introduction of Child Link, which is established under Part 7A of the Child Wellbeing and Safety Act 2005. Child Link is a digital tool that consolidates and displays key factual information about every child in Victoria to promote the wellbeing or safety of children in Victoria. The launch of Child Link in 2021 is a significant milestone in the implementation of Victoria’s Child Information Sharing reform and is a further enabler to improve outcomes for Victorian children.
The Child Information Sharing Scheme is established under Part 6A of the Child Wellbeing and Safety Act 2005.
Organisations and services prescribed as information sharing entities by the Child Wellbeing and Safety (Information Sharing) Regulations 2018 are permitted to share confidential information under the Child Information Sharing Scheme. Appendix 2 provides a list of types of information sharing entities. ‘Confidential information’ is defined in the Glossary and is usually referred to in these guidelines simply as ‘information’. Information that is not confidential may be shared outside the scheme.
The Child Information Sharing Scheme works in conjunction with existing information sharing legislative provisions. Organisations and services should continue to share information and collaborate according to existing legal obligations and permissions, as appropriate.
The Child Information Sharing Scheme does not affect reporting obligations created under other legislation, such as mandatory reporting obligations under the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005.
The purpose and legal status of these guidelines
The Child Information Sharing Scheme Ministerial Guidelines are made under section 41ZA of the Child Wellbeing and Safety Act. They explain how prescribed information sharing entities should handle confidential information responsibly, safely and appropriately under the Child Information Sharing Scheme. The guidelines also set out how the legislative principles of the scheme are to be applied.
When sharing information under the Child Information Sharing Scheme, the legislative principles require information sharing entities to:
- Give precedence to the wellbeing and safety of a child or group of children over the right to privacy.
- Seek to preserve and promote positive relationships between a child and the child’s family members and people significant to the child.
- Seek to maintain constructive and respectful engagement with children and their families.
- Be respectful of and have regard to a child’s social, individual and cultural identity, the child’s strengths and abilities and any vulnerability relevant to the child’s safety or wellbeing.
- Promote a child’s cultural safety and recognise the cultural rights and familial and community connections of children who are Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander or both.
- Seek and take into account the views of the child and the child’s relevant family members, if it is appropriate, safe and reasonable to do so.
- Take all reasonable steps to plan for the safety of all family members believed to be at risk from family violence.
- Only share confidential information to the extent necessary to promote the wellbeing or safety of a child or group of children, consistent with the best interests of that child or those children.
- Work collaboratively in a manner that respects the functions and expertise of each information sharing entity.
The Child Information Sharing Scheme Ministerial Guidelines are legally binding for all prescribed information sharing entities. Information sharing entities are responsible for ensuring that their organisational policies and practices are consistent with these guidelines. If courts and tribunals are prescribed to be information sharing entities, their participation in the scheme is voluntary. Practice examples in these guidelines are for illustrative and educational purposes only and are not intended to serve as definitive advice. When using the scheme, information sharing entities should consider individual facts and circumstances before exercising their professional judgement with respect to the application of the scheme.
State contracts and funding agreements also require compliance with these guidelines.
If a privacy complaint in relation to information sharing under this scheme is made to the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner or the Health Complaints Commissioner, and the information sharing entity has failed to comply with the guidelines, this may be considered in the determination of the complaint.
In these guidelines, the terms ‘child’, ‘children’ and ‘young person’ are used interchangeably and all refer to people under the age of 18 years. The term ‘young person’ may refer to older children between the ages of 12 and 18. The Glossary at Appendix 1 provides a full list of definitions and acronyms used in the guidelines.
1. Commission for Children and Young People 2014-2015 Annual Report; Commission for Children and Young People 2015–16 Annual Report; Commission for Children and Young People 2016–17 Annual Report; Commission for Children and Young People 2016, Neither seen nor heard: Inquiry into issues of family violence in child deaths; Coroner Court of Victoria, 2015, Inquest into the Death of Baby D; Cummins et al 2012, Report on the Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children Inquiry; Department of Health and Human Services 2016; Royal Commission into Family Violence, 2016, Report and recommendations; Victorian Auditor-General’s Office, 2011, Early Childhood Development Services: Access and Quality; Victorian Auditor-General’s Office, 2015, Early Intervention Services for Vulnerable Children and Families; Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, 2017.