Child protection practitioners manage confidential information much of which is personal and some sensitive. It is imperative to exercise scrupulous care to protect privacy for individuals to the extent compatible with legislative responsibilities and the paramount consideration of the child’s best interests. It is important that all managers and practitioners have an understanding of the information sharing provisions in the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 (CYFA), Child Wellbeing and Safety Act 2005, Family Violence Protection Act 2008 and the principles contained in the Privacy and Data Protection Act 2014 and the Health Records Act 2001.
Unauthorised release of information may carry significant unintended consequences including risk to the safety and security of clients, family members, carers or professionals. Particular caution should be exercised in the areas addressed below:
In cases involving family violence, threats of violence, estranged parents or hostility between extended family members, particular caution is required regarding the inclusion of addresses and contact details within documents to be provided to third parties. If a placement address is undisclosed, either court ordered or where this decision rests with child protection, decided by the case planner, this should be accurately recorded on CRIS. However, if a placement is not undisclosed, a carer should be made aware the child’s parent(s) are entitled to know the child’s whereabouts.
Contact details for professionals should not be included in the court report and if a report template is generated from CRIS these details will automatically be omitted.
Particular care should be exercised where a court report includes private information about multiple children and family members (for example, half-siblings and/or step-children within blended families).
Practitioners and managers should be aware that CRIS routinely auto populates documents and reports with certain information. The need for identifying information in such documents should be considered in the light of the specific circumstances of the case. Information which has been auto populated should be removed where sharing it would be inappropriate.
Where practitioners and managers are advised of the need for contact information to be kept confidential, this must be highlighted on the CRIS ‘alerts’ screen.
Where in the course of child protection intervention, significant safety concerns/alerts/restrictions are identified for children, parents or third parties, (for example, legally protected addresses, threats of violence or abduction) they must be highlighted on the CRIS ‘alerts’ screen following a discussion with the case planner. In this situation the address should be marked as withheld and the phone number as silent, and reviewed by practitioners prior to the release of identifying addresses/contact details in any reports or applications before the Court.
Information provided to the Court should be relevant to the specific application. Child protection practitioners will regularly collect information during the course of their involvement with a child that may be important and relevant to the matter. However it may not be necessary to include in a court report. The automatic population of address and contact details is often not relevant to the application.
When child protection makes an application to the Children’s Court, various forms must be completed (for example, notice of protection application). Where inlcuding address or other contact details may place children, family members, carers or professionals at risk or contravene existing orders, practitioners/managers should consult the divisional solicitor or CPLO regarding the appropriateness of inserting ‘details withheld’ in lieu of address details.
This process should also be followed where practitioners are completing a report for the Court. In general, contact details are not relevant to whether a child is in need of protection and as such the child’s address and contact details of other family members do not need to be contained in the protection and disposition reports. Child protection practitioners should carefully consider what the application before the Court is about, and only including personal information that is relevant to the proceedings before the Court in the court report.
In all cases, child protection practitioners must consider whether the inclusion of identifying address/contact details for children, parents or third parties in the notice of protection application, other applications or subsequent reports has potential to compromise their privacy, safety or wellbeing.
Where this is the case, the divisional solicitor or CPLO should be consulted and as appropriate, the contact details omitted.
Particular consideration should be given to:
- the existence of any prior alerts or decisions regarding the protection of the child or parent’s address or other information
- whether the placement is undisclosed or not
- any history of violence or threats, including criminal assaults, between separated parents
- the relevance of the information to the matter to be considered by the Court.
Where there is uncertainty, legal advice should be obtained, from a divisional solicitor or the CPLO, regarding the appropriateness of, and legal requirements for withholding certain information.
Information that is relevant to a proceeding should not be excluded from a court report simply because it falls within the definition of personal information or health information. Where there is uncertainty, legal advice should be obtained, from a divisional solicitor or the CPLO. Child protection, or another party, may make a formal application to the Court to withhold the whole or part of the report from another party and this may include personal information that is contained in the report. See advice Preparing the court report and Access to court reports for further information.