In order for agencies to plan for and provide services in a coordinated way, they are frequently required to share personal information about children and young people across professional and geographical boundaries. Anything that applies to an individual, and by which they can be identified, is personal information. The approach to information sharing with others is the same whether practitioners are part of the same organisation (two teachers in a school), or not (a teacher and a health visitor). It is in the interests of a child with a Statement of Special Education Needs (SEN), for instance, that teachers working closely with the child should have full knowledge of the statement. However, it may not always be necessary to share all information: for example, it is probably not necessary to share details of a parent’s criminal convictions when looking to support their child’s educational progress. Practitioners must build good relationships with colleagues, based on professional respect and trust to help break down organisational and cultural obstacles towards an open and positive approach to information sharing.
At the same time there is a requirement to protect the privacy of children/young people and their families and maintain the highest standards of security and good data management. Practitioners who wish to share information must be clear about their responsibilities under current legislation so that families can be confident that their personal data is being handled appropriately. In practice, there is likely to be implied consent for sharing between practitioners in the same organisation. A concern for confidentiality must never be used as a justification for withholding information when it would be in the child’s best interest to share it. A practitioner must balance the risk of sharing information with the risk of not sharing it.
All practitioners providing services to children, young people, adults and/or families, whether working in the public, private or voluntary sectors as employee, contractor or volunteer, must follow HM Government Guidance on Information Sharing: Advice for practitioners providing safeguarding services to children, young people, parents and carers when considering whether to share information on a case by case basis. This guidance, (and further associated materials from www.education.gov.uk/childrenandyoungpeople/strategy/integratedworking), informed by training and experience, aims to support professional judgment and good practice by offering clarity on when and how information about a child’s safety and well-being can be shared legally, ethically and professionally, in order to achieve improved outcomes.
Whether integrated working is through specific multi-agency structures or existing services, success for those at risk of poor outcomes depends upon effective partnership working and appropriate information sharing between services.
A practitioner must seek advice from their manager, supervisor, child protection advisor or Caldicott Guardian if they are not sure what to do at any stage, and they must ensure that the outcome of the discussion is recorded.
Further, if planning bulk sharing of personal information between IT systems or organizations, advice must be sought through agency Information Governance lead or Caldicott Guardian
HM Government Guidance above is based on the 7 Golden Rules and Information Sharing Decision Tree.
Consent is the key to successful information sharing. For all assessment, it is important that:
- Consent is obtained where it is sensible, in the child's best interest, and practical. Even where the Data Protection Act does not demand it, operating with consent is good practice.
- To give informed consent, a child/young person and/or their parent/carer must be entirely clear about the purpose of the information; how it will be used; who it may be shared with and how it will be shared; how long it will be held and in what form. This must include making them aware of circumstances where information may be shared without consent and where confidentiality cannot be maintained.
- Consent can be withdrawn at any time: giving of consent is not a one-off event. It is a continuous and ongoing issue which needs to be revisited at regular and reasonable intervals. The child/young person and/or their parent/carer should be informed that they can withdraw consent at any time.