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6. Unintended adverse impacts

Unintended adverse impacts in the Child Information Sharing Scheme Two-Year Review report.

Consideration is given in this chapter to the following research question and the extent to which any adverse impacts of the CIS Scheme have been minimised by prescribed organisations and services:

  • Have there been any unanticipated adverse impacts of the CIS Scheme and what has been the cause?

Box 6.1 Key findings – unanticipated adverse impacts of the CIS Scheme

  • The formalisation of information sharing practices among some information sharing entities has caused local relationships to decline as informal information sharing between local agencies has decreased. However, it is noted that previous options for information sharing may not have been appropriate and an objective of the CIS Scheme was to provide confidence around the legality of child information sharing.

  • In some cases, the CIS Scheme has complicated information sharing procedures for information sharing entities that previously shared information through other mechanisms. Information sharing entities are preoccupied with thinking about whether the CIS Scheme can be used and neglected the fact that they previously shared information through other avenues.

Source: ACIL Allen Consulting 2020

Stakeholders who participated in the data gathering activities occasionally raised unintended impacts, which were predominantly either positive or neutral. There were a small number of unintended adverse impacts that relate to perceived disruption to previous workable arrangements for information sharing. Generally, however, the perceived impacts could be considered short term disruption to pathways for information sharing with a view to enhancing the quality and extent of information sharing through a more rigorous and transparent process. Related discussion can be found in Chapter 7 and other areas of this report.

6.1 Formalisation of information sharing practices

A number of ISEs, particularly the large government departments such as DHHS and VicPol, have implemented centralised information sharing teams in their implementation of the CIS Scheme, developing formal information sharing processes, such as forms, procedures and protocols. These arrangements have led to more consistent information sharing practices and reduced the risks of information sharing without appropriate checks and balances. These arrangements have also provided dedicated resourcing so that operational frontline staff do not have to dedicate significant resources to meeting the information sharing requirements. However, stakeholder feedback suggests that an unintended adverse impact has been the erosion of local relationships between these agencies and local service providers.

Local pathways that allowed agencies to share information have been eroded, even though the schemes (both CIS and FVIS Schemes) had intended to further it. (Workshop participant)

It is noted that less formal arrangements prior to the CIS Scheme for sharing information may not have been an appropriate option, and that an objective of the reform was to provide confidence around the legality of child information sharing.

Another issue raised related to the formalisation of information sharing is that local workforces may not have the opportunity to operationalise the training that they receive, particularly in responding to requests for information. Feedback provided by stakeholders indicated that centralised teams have responsibility for closed or historical cases, while local DHHS and Victoria Police staff have responsibility for responding to requests for information where cases are active or open. There have been occasions where a request was passed to the central team when it should have been responded to by the local staff members, due to their unfamiliarity with the protocols and/or their lack of confidence in responding to requests. This may occasionally cause undue delays in preparing and providing a response.

Continued reinforcement from central information sharing teams about their role and that of local staff could be expected to overcome any confusion in the short term, and result in a more efficient sharing of information and allocation of resources.

6.2 CIS Scheme and other information sharing mechanisms

In most cases, where existing mechanisms for information sharing were being accessed, such as through the Children Youth and Families Act 2005 or other legislation or regulations, these arrangements have continued following the introduction of the CIS Scheme. However, stakeholders indicated that there were a small number of organisations or occasions where the CIS Scheme has caused confusion as workforces have tried to use the CIS Scheme to varying success while overlooking existing mechanisms.

Some people are really wary of using the scheme, but they’re forgetting that other avenues of information sharing already exist and have gone on for years. (Peak/lead body)

Most stakeholders appreciated that the CIS Scheme augments the information sharing capabilities of prescribed organisations. However, the fact that the CIS Scheme augments, rather than replaces, any existing information sharing processes or standards (such as the Child Safe Standards, Mandatory Reporting Requirements or Reportable Conduct Scheme) should continue to be reinforced through ongoing education and communications.

Recommendation 9         Clarifying relationship to other legislation and standards
That consideration be given to providing material to reinforce how the CIS Scheme interacts with other existing legislation and standards, such as the Child Safe Standards, Mandatory Reporting Requirements and Reportable Conduct Scheme and, and how these relate to information sharing entities in different sectors, to ensure adherence to the intent of mechanisms available to facilitate child information sharing. Such an approach can highlight where the CIS Scheme provides additional information sharing powers over existing legislation and standards, providing clarity on when and how to use the CIS Scheme

Another potential adverse impact of the CIS Scheme that was highlighted by stakeholders in the baseline report is inappropriate use of the CIS Scheme. While there were no examples of inappropriate use of the CIS Scheme or complaints arising out of implementation of the CIS Scheme encountered during the data collection for this Review, these continue to remain a risk. The potential for inappropriate use should be actively monitored at organisational and state-wide levels.