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2.5 Information Sharing and Confidentiality

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

Effective communication and information sharing between agencies is essential to keep children safe and to promote their welfare.

This chapter provides guidance in line with Working Together to Safeguard Children 2015 and Information sharing Advice for practitioners providing safeguarding services to children, young people, parents and carers (HM Government, March 2015).

RELATED GUIDANCE

Information sharing Advice for practitioners providing safeguarding services to children, young people, parents and carers (HM Government, March 2015)

AMENDMENT

In December 2016, the Inter Agency Information Sharing Protocol which is linked from Appendix 1: Local Information Sharing Protocols was updated. The protocol contains a general agreement on information sharing between several organisations and bodies across the West Yorkshire region, and signatories include Leeds City Council, City of Bradford MBC, Calderdale MBC, Kirklees MBC, Wakefield MBC and West Yorkshire Police.


Contents

1. Introduction
2. Sharing Information to Keep Children Safe
3. Key Points for Workers when Sharing Information
  3.1 Confidentiality
  3.2 Seeking Consent
  3.3 Situations when it might be appropriate to share information without consent
  3.4 What to Share
  3.5 Record Keeping
4. The Seven Golden Rules of Information Sharing
5. Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme
6. The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme
  Appendix 1: Local Information Sharing Protocols


1. Introduction

Effective sharing of information between professionals and local agencies working with children and families is essential for effective identification, assessment and service provision.

The early sharing of information is the key to providing effective Early Help and Early Intervention Services where there are emerging problems. At the other end of the continuum, sharing information is essential for effective child protection services. Serious Case Reviews (SCRs) have repeatedly shown how poor information sharing has contributed to the deaths and serious injuries of children.

Fears about sharing information cannot be allowed to stand in the way of the need to promote the welfare and protect the safety of children (Working Together to Safeguard Children, 2015).

To ensure effective safeguarding arrangements:

  • All organisations should have arrangements in place which set out clearly the processes and the principles for sharing information between each other, with other professionals and with the LSCB; and
  • No professional should assume that someone else will pass on information which they think may be critical to keeping a child safe. If a professional has concerns about a child's welfare and believes they are suffering or likely to suffer harm, then they should share the information with local authority children's social care.


2. Sharing Information to Keep Children Safe

Keeping children safe from harm requires information to be shared about:

  • A child's health and development, and exposure to possible harm;
  • A parent / carer who may need help, or may not be able to care for a child adequately and safely; and
  • Adults and other children who may pose a risk of harm to a child.

Often, it is only when information from a number of sources has been shared and is then put together, that it becomes clear a child is has suffered, or is likely to suffer, Significant Harm. However, when professionals share information at an early stage, this can reduce the risk of a child suffering significant harm.

Those providing services to adults and children, for example GP's, will be concerned about the need to balance their duties to protect children from harm and their general duty of care towards their patient or service user, e.g. a parent. Some professionals and staff face the added dimension of being involved in caring for or supporting more than one family member - the abused child, siblings, and an alleged abuser. In English Law, where there are concerns that a child is, or may be, at risk of significant harm, the overriding consideration is to safeguard the child. (Children Act 1989.)

Information sharing Advice for practitioners providing safeguarding services to children, young people, parents and carers (HM Government, March 2015) supports frontline practitioners, working in child or adult services, who have to make decisions about sharing personal information on a case by case basis. The guidance can be used to supplement local guidance and encourage good practice in information sharing.


3. Key Points for Workers when Sharing Information

3.1 Confidentiality

Personal information held about children is subject to a legal duty of confidence and should not normally be disclosed without the consent of the subject. The exceptions to this are set out in Section 3.3, Situations where it may be appropriate to share information without consent.

The legal framework for confidentiality is contained in the common law duty of confidence, the Children Act 1989, the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Data Protection Act 1998.

3.2 Seeking Consent

As a general principle, information should only be shared with the consent of the subject of the information (see the Section 4, The Seven Golden Rules of Information Sharing).

It is important to be open and honest with children (subject to their age and understanding) and families about why, what, how and with whom information will, or could be shared. All agencies should, therefore, have in place a systematic approach and explain to children and families when they first access services how information will be shared and seek their agreement to this.

Those working with children and families however must make it clear that confidentiality may not be maintained if the disclosure of information is necessary in the interests of the child. In these circumstances, disclosure will be appropriate for the purpose and only to the extent necessary to achieve that purpose.

When contacting any Early Help, CAF or Early Intervention services in relation to children with additional needs, this must always be done with consent of them / their family.

3.3 Situations where it may be appropriate to share information without consent

Whilst the general principle is that information obtained about children must be shared with them and not with others, there are exceptions. The public interest in child protection overrides the public interest in maintaining confidentiality and the law permits the disclosure of confidential information necessary to safeguard a child or children.

Disclosure should be justifiable in each case, for example to provide information to professionals from other agencies working with the child, and where possible and appropriate, the agreement of the person concerned should be obtained.

Circumstances where it would not be appropriate to seek consent before sharing information with others, and / or information can still be shared even where consent has been refused include:

  • Where seeking consent to share information would place the child or others at increased likelihood of suffering Significant Harm; or
  • Where seeking consent to share information would place an adult at risk of serious harm (including a colleague / professional from another agency); or
  • Where seeking consent to share information would undermine the prevention, detection or prosecution of a serious crime (i.e. any crime which causes or is likely to cause significant harm to a child or serious harm to an adult) including where seeking consent might lead to interference with any potential investigation.

Practitioners should, where possible, respect the wishes of children or families who do not consent to share confidential information. However, they may still share information if in their judgement there is sufficient need to override that lack of consent.

In all situations the overriding consideration as to whether to share information should be the safety and welfare of the child; a lack of consent should never compromise the safety or welfare of a child.

Each situation should be considered on a case-by-case basis. Professionals should seek advice from senior colleagues where clarification is required. Discussions with children and families around consent to share information should be recorded.

3.4 What to Share

Practitioners should ensure that the information they share is accurate and up-to-date, necessary for the purpose for which they are sharing it, shared only with those people who need to see it, and shared securely. As a general rule, information may only be shared on a 'need to know' basis.

For example:

  • Where professionals are undertaking a Section 47 Enquiry in relation to a child;
  • Where information is requested in the furtherance of an inquiry or tribunal, or for the purposes of a Serious Case Review.

In such circumstances the person to whom the information relates should be informed that records have been requested unless to do so would prejudice the purpose of the request.

3.5 Record Keeping

Practitioners should always record the reasons for their decision – whether it is to share information or not.

Where information or records are passed to others it should be noted and confirmed in writing.

Where information is requested by telephone or electronically care must be taken to ensure that the recipient is entitled to receive the information requested. Where there is any doubt the information may not be provided without the approval of a manager.

Information can be held in many different ways, in case records or electronically in a variety of IT systems with access for different professionals. The use of emails in professional communications also raises another mechanism for sharing information other than in direct person to person contact. Regardless of how the information is shared, it should always be recorded in the individual’s record.

For further information, please see Information sharing - Advice for practitioners providing safeguarding services to children, young people, parents and carers (HM Government, 2015).


4. Seven Golden Rules of Information Sharing

  1. Remember that the Data Protection Act 1998 and human rights law are not barriers to justified information sharing, but provide a framework to ensure that personal information about living individuals is shared appropriately.
  2. Be open and honest with the individual (and/or their family where appropriate) from the outset about why, what, how and with whom information will, or could be shared, and seek their agreement, unless it is unsafe or inappropriate to do so.
  3. Seek advice from other practitioners if you are in any doubt about sharing the information concerned, without disclosing the identity of the individual where possible.
  4. Share with informed consent where appropriate and, where possible, respect the wishes of those who do not consent to share confidential information. You may still share information without consent if, in your judgement, there is good reason to do so, such as where safety may be at risk. You will need to base your judgement on the facts of the case. When you are sharing or requesting personal information from someone, be certain of the basis upon which you are doing so. Where you have consent, be mindful that an individual might not expect information to be shared.
  5. Consider safety and well-being: Base your information sharing decisions on considerations of the safety and well-being of the individual and others who may be affected by their actions.
  6. Necessary, proportionate, relevant, adequate, accurate, timely and secure: Ensure that the information you share is necessary for the purpose for which you are sharing it, is shared only with those individuals who need to have it, is accurate and up-to-date, is shared in a timely fashion, and is shared securely (see principles).
  7. Keep a record of your decision and the reasons for it – whether it is to share information or not. If you decide to share, then record what you have shared, with whom, and for what purpose.

    (Taken from Information sharing Advice for practitioners providing safeguarding services to children, young people, parents and carers (HM Government, March 2015)).

The ‘Seven Golden Rules’ will help support your decision making so you can be more confident that information is being shared legally and professionally. 

See also Flowchart of when and how to share information (p12 of new guidance).


5. Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme

The Child Sex Offender Review (CSOR) Disclosure Scheme is designed to provide members of the public with a formal mechanism to ask for disclosure about people they are concerned about, who have unsupervised access to children and may therefore pose a risk. This scheme builds on existing, well established third-party disclosures that operate under the Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA).

Police will reveal details confidentially to the person most able to protect the child (usually parents, carers or guardians) if they think it is in the child’s interests.

The scheme has been operating in all 43 police areas in England and Wales since 2010. The scheme is managed by the Police and information can only be accessed through direct application to them.

If a disclosure is made, the information must be kept confidential and only used to keep the child in question safe. Legal action may be taken if confidentiality is breached. A disclosure is delivered in person (as opposed to in writing) with the following warning:

  • That the information must only be used for the purpose for which it has been shared i.e. in order to safeguard children;
  • The person to whom the disclosure is made will be asked to sign an undertaking that they agree that the information is confidential and they will not disclose this information further;
  • A warning should be given that legal proceedings could result if this confidentiality is breached. This should be explained to the person and they must sign the undertaking (Home Office, 2011, p16).

If the person is unwilling to sign the undertaking, the police must consider whether the disclosure should still take place.


6. The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme

The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (DVDS) commenced on 8 March 2014. The DVDS gives members of the public a formal mechanism to make enquires about an individual who they are in a relationship with, or who is in a relationship with someone they know, where there is a concern that the individual may be violent towards their partner. This scheme adds a further dimension to the information sharing about children where there are concerns that domestic violence and abuse is impacting on the care and welfare of the children in the family.

Members of the public can make an application for a disclosure, known as the ‘right to ask’. Anybody can make an enquiry, but information will only be given to someone at risk or a person in a position to safeguard the victim. The scheme is for anyone in an intimate relationship regardless of gender.

Partner agencies can also request disclosure is made of an offender’s past history where it is believed someone is at risk of harm. This is known as ‘right to know’.

If a potentially violent individual is identified as having convictions for violent offences, or information is held about their behaviour which reasonably leads the police and other agencies to believe they pose a risk of harm to their partner, a disclosure will be made. 


Appendix 1: Local Information Sharing Protocols

For a general agreement on information sharing between several organisations and bodies across the West Yorkshire region please see the Inter Agency Information Sharing Protocol (2016) (signatories include Leeds City Council, City of Bradford MBC, Calderdale MBC, Kirklees MBC, Wakefield MBC and West Yorkshire Police).

Additional Guidance for Practitioners in Bradford, Calderdale and Leeds and be found below:

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