2.4 Information Sharing
- 1. Introduction
- 2. Agency Responsibility Under Children Act 2004
- 3. Seven Golden Rules for Information Sharing
- 4. Sharing Information Where There are Concerns About Significant Harm
- Myth-busting guide to information sharing
This procedure should be read in conjunction with HM Government Information sharing: Information sharing advice for safeguarding practitioners July 2018 and Surrey County Council Multi Agency Information Sharing Protocol for Surrey.
A key factor in many Serious Case Reviews has been a failure to record information, to share it, to understand the significance of the information shared, and to take appropriate action in relation to known or suspected abuse or neglect. Often it is only when information from a number of sources has been shared that it becomes clear that a child is at risk of, or is suffering, harm.
Information sharing is vital to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children and improving information sharing practice is therefore a cornerstone of the Government's strategy to improve outcomes for all people.
Legal Principles and Obligations
In addition to the statutory guidance following from the Children Act 2004, the key legal concepts, legislation and terminology relevant to information sharing are contained in:
- The Data Protection Act 1998;
- The Human Rights Act 1998;
- The common law duty of confidence.
2. Agency Responsibility Under Children Act 2004
The statutory guidance on Section 11 of the Children Act 2004 states that in order to safeguard and promote children's welfare, the agencies covered by Section 11 should make arrangements to ensure that:
- All professionals in contact with children understand what to do and the most effective ways of sharing information if they believe that a child and family may require particular services in order to achieve positive outcomes;
- All professionals in contact with children understand what to do and when to share information if they believe that a child may be a Child in Need, including those children who have suffered, or are likely to suffer significant harm;
- Appropriate agency-specific guidance is produced to complement guidance issued by central government, and such guidance and appropriate training is made available to new staff as part of their induction and ongoing training;
- Guidance and training specifically covers the sharing of information between professions, organisations and agencies, as well as within them, and arrangements for training take into account the value of multi-agency as well as single agency training;
- Managers in Surrey Children's Services are fully conversant with the legal framework and good practice guidance issued for professionals working with children.
The statutory guidance on Section10 of the Children Act 2004 makes it clear that effective information sharing supports the duty to cooperate to improve the well-being of children.
Local authorities and their partner agencies should ensure that their employees:
- Are supported in working through these issues;
- Understand what information is and is not confidential, and the need in some circumstances to make a judgement about whether confidential information can be shared in the public interest, without consent;
- Understand and apply good practice in sharing information at an early stage as part of preventative work;
- Are clear that information can normally be shared where a child is judged to be at risk of significant harm or that an adult is at risk of serious harm.
- Each appoint a senior manager, a lead information officer, responsible for decisions relating to information sharing within the agency, who can determine controversial issues;
- Develop common documentation, systems and a joint approach to multi-disciplinary and multi-agency information sharing;
- Encourage children and their parents to see information sharing in a positive light, as something which makes it easier for them to receive the services they need.
3. Seven Golden Rules for Information Sharing
The HM Government guidance Information sharing advice for safeguarding practitioners (July 2018) provides seven golden rules for Information Sharing;
- Remember that the Data Protection Act is not a barrier to sharing information but provides a framework to ensure that personal information about living persons is shared appropriately;
- Be open and honest with the person (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;
- Seek advice if you are in any doubt without disclosing the identity of the person where possible;
- Share with 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, that lack of consent can be overridden in the public interest. You will need to base your judgement on the facts of the case;
- Consider safety and well being: Base your information sharing decisions on considerations of the safety and well being of the person and others who may be affected by their actions;
- Necessary, proportionate, relevant, accurate, timely and secure: Ensure that the information you share is necessary for the purpose for which you are sharing it, it is shared only with those people who need to have it, is accurate and up to date, is shared in a timely fashion, and is shared securely;
- 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.
4. Sharing Information Where There are Concerns About Significant Harm
Professionals who work with, or have contact with children, parents or adults in contact with children, should always share information with Surrey Children's Services where they have reasonable cause to suspect that a child may be suffering or may be at risk of suffering significant harm.
While, in general, professionals should seek to discuss any concerns with the family and, where possible, seek their agreement to making referrals to Surrey Children's Services there will be some circumstances where professionals should not seek consent e.g. where to do so would:
- Place a child at increased risk of significant harm;
- Place an adult at risk of serious harm;
- Prejudice the prevention or detection of a serious crime;
- Lead to unjustified delay in making enquiries about allegations of significant harm.
In some situations there may be a concern that a child has suffered, or is likely to suffer significant harm or of causing serious harm to others but professionals may be unsure whether what has given rise to concern constitutes 'a reasonable cause to believe'. In these situations, the concern must not be ignored.
Professionals should always take this to their agency's nominated child protection adviser and, if necessary, a Caldicott Guardian who will have expertise in information sharing issues. The child's best interests must be the overriding consideration in making any decisions whether or not to seek consent.
Significant harm to children can arise from a number of circumstances; it is not restricted to cases of deliberate abuse or gross neglect. A baby who is severely failing to thrive for no known reason could be suffering significant harm but equally could have an undiagnosed medical condition. If the parents refuse consent to further medical investigation or an assessment, professionals are still justified in sharing information for the purpose of helping ensure that the cases of the failure to thrive are correctly identified.
Similarly, serious harm to adults is not restricted to cases of extreme physical violence. The cumulative effect of repeated abuse or threatening behaviour, or the theft of a car for joy riding, may well constitute a risk of serious harm. A professional is likely to be justified to share information without consent for the purposes of identifying a child for whom preventative interventions in relation to such behaviour are appropriate.
Also see Surrey County Council MAISP.
Myth-busting guide to information sharing
Sharing information enables practitioners and agencies to identify and provide appropriate services that safeguard and promote the welfare of children. Below are common myths that may hinder effective information sharing.
Data protection legislation is a barrier to sharing information
No – the Data Protection Act 2018 and GDPR do not prohibit the collection and sharing of personal information, but rather provide a framework to ensure that personal information is shared appropriately. In particular, the Data Protection Act 2018 balances the rights of the information subject (the individual whom the information is about) and the possible need to share information about them.
Consent is always needed to share personal information
No – you do not necessarily need consent to share personal information. Wherever possible, you should seek consent and be open and honest with the individual from the outset as to why, what, how and with whom, their information will be shared. You should seek consent where an individual may not expect their information to be passed on. When you gain consent to share information, it must be explicit, and freely given. There may be some circumstances where it is not appropriate to seek consent, because the individual cannot give consent, or it is not reasonable to obtain consent, or because to gain consent would put a child’s or young person’s safety at risk.
Personal information collected by one organisation/agency cannot be disclosed to another
No – this is not the case, unless the information is to be used for a purpose incompatible with the purpose for which it was originally collected. In the case of children in need, or children at risk of significant harm, it is difficult to foresee circumstances where information law would be a barrier to sharing personal information with other practitioners.
The common law duty of confidence and the Human Rights Act 1998 prevent the sharing of personal information
No – this is not the case. In addition to the Data Protection Act 2018 and GDPR, practitioners need to balance the common law duty of confidence and the Human Rights Act 1998 against the effect on individuals or others of not sharing the information.
IT Systems are often a barrier to effective information sharing
No – IT systems, such as the Child Protection Information Sharing project (CP-IS), can be useful for information sharing. IT systems are most valuable when practitioners use the shared data to make more informed decisions about how to support and safeguard a child.