If Child Protection is unable to share information under the Children, Youth and Families Act (CYFA), the Child Information Sharing Scheme may apply.
See Information sharing in child protection practice for details on sharing information under the CYFA.
The Child Information Sharing Scheme (the child scheme, or CIS) is intended to facilitate services working together to identify needs and risks, promote earlier and more effective intervention and integrated service delivery provision and improve outcomes for children and families in Victoria.
The child scheme is articulated in the Child Information Sharing Scheme Ministerial Guidelines, which are legally binding for all prescribed information sharing entities (ISEs).
As of 27 September 2018, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services is a prescribed ISE, and the functions of the Child Information Sharing Scheme have been delegated to all child protection practitioners (and above).
Nothing in the Child Information Sharing Scheme prevents information sharing permitted under the CYFA.
The Child Information Sharing Scheme expands the circumstances in which prescribed ISEs can share confidential information with each other if it meets the threshold.
The threshold has three key aspects:
- sharing information must be for the purpose of promoting the wellbeing or safety of a child or group of children
- it must also assist with planning, delivering a service, assessing or managing risk
- excluded information cannot be shared under the child scheme (see below for a summary list, or the Child Information Sharing Scheme Ministerial Guidelines for a complete list).
If the threshold is met, information can be requested, shared in response to a request or shared proactively between information sharing entities.
For the more limited purpose of managing risk or safety to a child, information can also be shared with the child or an adult with parental responsibility or with whom the child lives.
Obligation to share
Prescribed ISEs must comply with requests for information, if the request meets all three parts of the threshold for sharing under the scheme.
The relevant information, including information originally obtained from another source, should be provided in a timely manner.
If an ISE determines that a request for information does not meet the threshold of the Child Information Sharing Scheme, they must provide the requesting entity with the reason they consider the threshold is not met.
Prescribed information sharing entities
Several organisations and services relevant to Child Protection practice are now also prescribed ISEs – see List of Information Sharing Entities (ISEs). However some organisations and services with which Child Protection has frequent contact are not currently ISEs, such as schools, hospitals, allied health, and disability services.
When sharing information under the Child Information Sharing Scheme, the legislative principles require ISEs 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.
While the Child Information Sharing Scheme overrides some secrecy and confidentiality provisions in other laws, any that are not specifically overridden continue to apply.
In relation to the CYFA, the child scheme overrides:
- s. 207(2) – which would otherwise prevent disclosure of information contained in a protection report provided to police at their request.
- ss. 537(3) and 582(5) – which would otherwise restrict information sharing in relation to court orders.
For the full list of secrecy and confidentiality provisions in other legislation overridden by the Child Information Sharing Scheme, see the Child Information Sharing Scheme Ministerial Guidelines.
Most restrictions in the CYFA are not overridden, and therefore still apply when sharing under the child scheme including those that:
- protect the identity of reporters
- protect the identity of people providing information in confidence during an investigation
- limit access to reports to the Children's Court
- prohibit disclosing details of a conciliation conference
- restrict publication of identifying details in relation to Children’s Court proceedings and orders
- restrict disclosure of information regarding a registrable sex offender.
Proactively sharing information
In the course of working with a child, Child Protection may become aware of information relevant to the safety or wellbeing of another child or group of children. If the information did not raise concerns that another child:
- may be in need of protection (in which case a report to Child Protection is to be made)
- would benefit from a referral to Child FIRST or The Orange Door (in which case the referral is to be made),
the Child Information Sharing Scheme enables Child Protection to contact another ISE in relation to the child or group of children to share information for the purpose of promoting the safety and wellbeing of that child or group of children (where consistent with the threshold and other requirements of the child scheme).
Requesting information from another ISE
Child Protection is unlikely to need to request information under the Child Information Sharing Scheme to gather information in relation to its functions, as this is enabled under the CYFA.
However, if a prescribed ISE has refused to provide information in response to a request under the CYFA, making a formal request under the child scheme enlivens the obligation to respond and may be appropriate.
Another ISE may request information from Child Protection to promote the wellbeing or safety of a child or group of children.
Receiving a request from another ISE
The ISE requesting information should provide sufficient detail to enable Child Protection to make a decision about whether sharing under the child scheme is permitted, that is:
- the purpose is promote the wellbeing or safety of a child or group of children
- it will assist with planning, delivering a service, assessing or managing risk
- the requested information is not excluded information.
When making a request, an ISE may disclose information that may assist Child Protection to:
- identify the information Child Protection holds that is relevant to the request
- form an opinion on whether the information may be disclosed under the scheme.
Responding to the request
Where a child protection practitioner receives a request under the Child Information Sharing Scheme in relation to a current client, in most circumstances the requested information will be able to be shared under the CYFA.
However there may be circumstances where the child protection practitioner does not have reasonable grounds to believe that sharing the information is required to carry out their responsibilities under the CYFA.
For example, if the request is for information held by Child Protection in the connection with a current client, but is being sought to promote the safety or wellbeing of another child or group of children, the CYFA may not apply.
After checking Information sharing in child protection practice, the child protection practitioner should consult with their supervisor or team manager if they are uncertain about whether the CYFA permits sharing the requested information.
If the requested information cannot be shared under the CYFA, consider whether the request meets all three aspects of the threshold for sharing under the child scheme, and determine the appropriate response in consultation with your team manager.
The team manager may seek advice from the Information Exchange Team on 1300 090 979 if required.
If the Child Information Sharing Scheme threshold is met, verify that the requester is a prescribed ISE, and, as required under the scheme, provide the information in a timely manner. Record the exchange as set out below.
If the request relates to, or is for information held by Child Protection in the connection with a closed case, the requester should be advised to make the request in writing by emailing the central Information Exchange Team at email@example.com.
Refusing a request for information
Child Protection may determine that certain information it holds in relation to a child is excluded information because sharing it could be reasonably expected to, for example, prejudice an investigation.
Careful consideration is required before refusing a request from another ISE for information. In consultation with the team manager, advice should be sought from the central information exchange team and legal services.
If Child Protection refuses a request from another information sharing entity to disclose information, the request and why it was refused is to be recorded in the client file as an information sharing request case note type, and the requesting ISE is to be provided with the reasons in writing.
See the Child Information Sharing Scheme Ministerial Guidelines for complete details.
In summary, excluded information is any information that, if shared, could be reasonably expected to:
- endanger a person’s life or result in physical injury
- prejudice an investigation or the enforcement or proper administration of the law
- prejudice a coronial inquest or inquiry
- prejudice the fair trial of a person or the impartial adjudication of a particular case
- breach legal professional privilege or client legal privilege
- identity of a confidential source of information in relation to the enforcement or administration of the law
- contravene a court order or law that prohibits or restricts the publication or disclosure of information about or closes a court proceeding to the public
- be contrary to the public interest.
When Child Protection receives a request or shares information under the Child Information Sharing Scheme, whether verbally or in writing, a record is to be made as an information sharing case note type in the CRIS file of the child/ren to whom the information shared related, to comply with the Child Wellbeing and Safety (Information Sharing) Regulations 2018.
When a request has been received, the following must be recorded:
- the name of the requesting ISE
- the information that was requested
- the date on which the ISE made the request.
When disclosing information voluntarily or in response to a request, the following must be recorded:
- the name of the ISE to which the information was provided
- the date the information was disclosed
- the information that was disclosed
A record may consist of a summary or short description of the content of the information that was disclosed.
- whether the views of the child and/or their relevant family members were sought and obtained in relation to the information that was disclosed
The views of the child and relevant family members should be sought if appropriate, safe and reasonable to do. Typically this would not be reasonable in relation to a closed Child Protection case. It may not be safe or appropriate to delay information sharing to seek the views of the child and others.
If it is not considered appropriate, safe or reasonable to seek and obtain the views of either the child or the relevant family members for any reason, this must be recorded.
- whether the child and/or their parent was informed that their information was or would be disclosed
Where Child Protection has direct contact, the privacy notices provided to children and parents set out how Child Protection will use and disclose information. In addition, in the course of child protection involvement, child protection practitioners should be keeping touch with children and families in relation to contact with other professionals concerning the investigation or case plan, and their views about this. As such, children and parents are unlikely to require specific contact to seek their views on a particular request, or to inform them that their information has been shared.
- copies of the following documents, if relevant to the disclosure
- a family violence risk assessment in relation to the child and any relevant family members
- a family violence safety plan in relation to child and any relevant family members.
If a child protection practitioner acts in good faith and with reasonable care when sharing information under the Child Information Sharing Scheme, they are protected from liability.
Good case note recording provides a good foundation for demonstrating this.
The Child Information Sharing Scheme includes offences for unauthorised and intentional or reckless use or disclosure of confidential information and for impersonating an information sharing entity.
Any complaints about information sharing under the child scheme by Child Protection are to be handled in accordance with usual complaints procedures.
There may be circumstances where information sharing is not permitted under the CYFA, and both the child and family violence information sharing schemes apply.
Child Protection may be asked for, or believe it should proactively share information, both for the purpose of promoting the safety and wellbeing of a child or group of children (under the CIS), and to assess or manage a family violence risk (under the FVISS). Sharing information in the context of family violence may pose particular and complex risks for children and other family members, and the principles and requirements of both schemes will apply, as determined by the nature and purposes of sharing the information.
Child protection practitioners are to exercise their professional judgement and utilise appropriate frameworks and expertise to determine the safest and most effective approach in each circumstance.
Sharing information appropriately and with due care is important to children’s safety and wellbeing.
The Child Information Sharing Scheme responds to numerous independent reviews and inquiries that 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 modify 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 circumstances where the CYFA, the Child Information Sharing Scheme and the Family Violence Information Sharing Scheme, see Privacy legislation and Child Protection for a summary of the privacy principles governing information sharing.