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The Children Legislation Amendment (Information Sharing) Bill 2017 (VIC)

The Children Legislation Amendment (Information Sharing) Bill 2017 (VIC)

Published on March 12, 2018 by Charles Harrison

The Children Legislation Amendment (Information Sharing) Bill 2017 (VIC) proposes measures to enable new connections between services or organisations who work with children.

The Bill will significantly impact the lives of children and families, as well as create obligations that all agencies and service providers who work with children and families – including schools, pre-schools, hospitals, doctors, government departments – need to be aware of and have systems to ensure appropriate implementation.

Following the Royal Commissions into both Family Violence and the Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, organisations and entities who are involved with children need to be aware of the various legislative changes that have come into effect (or will soon come into effect) regarding adequate systems and reporting requirements, amongst a raft of other measures.

Background

The Bill passed the Victorian Legislative Assembly in December 2017 and is expected to soon pass the Legislative Council. The Bill focuses on proactive and preventative support for children and families and is designed to improve the ability of relevant agencies and service providers to exchange information about a child or group of children, with a laser focus on early prevention.

Rationale for the Bill

The need for improved sharing of information between relevant agencies in the protection of children from harm or death has been evidenced in a number of reports and commission of inquiry. These include the Commission for Children and Young People’s 2014-15 Annual Report which found that out of 43 child death inquiries, 20 of these involved inadequate sharing of information between relevant information. Further evidence is found in the 2012 report of the Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children Inquiry, a number of child death enquiries of the Victorian Coroner’s Court and the Commission for Children and Young People, and the Royal Commissions into Family Violence and Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

In his Second Reading Speech, the Minister for Disability, Housing and Aging, Martin Foley, stated “Victoria’s current legislative framework for information sharing is complex, confusing and creates a culture of risk aversion in relation to information sharing, which significantly hinders service collaboration and early intervention”.

Mechanics of the Bill

The Bill proposes a new part 6A and part 7A to the Child Wellbeing and Safety Act 2005 that will establish a child wellbeing and safety information-sharing scheme in Victoria.

The child well being and safety information-sharing scheme

This scheme will authorise a select group of prescribed information-sharing entities to share information with one another in order to promote the wellbeing or safety of a child or children. There is a three-part test which must be satisfied before information can be shared between such entities:

  1. The entity is able to voluntarily disclose or request confidential information about any person for the purpose of promoting the wellbeing or safety of a child.
  2. The entity disclosing the information must reasonably believe that the disclosing the information may assist the receiving entity to make a decision, assessment or plan, initiate or conduct an investigation, or provide or manage a risk.
  3. The information must be ‘excluded information’ which is information that could be reasonably expected to endanger a person’s life or result in physical injury, contravene a court order, prejudice a criminal investigation.

Child Link

The Bill also establishes an online IT platform called Child Link which intends to enable the sharing between specified entities of limited information regarding a child’s background and key developmental issues. This will enable entities to ‘join the dots’ to form an overall picture of a child’s history and current circumstances which will hopefully ensure a more appropriate response to the child’s current situation by the relevant entity.

Other considerations

The Bill focuses on the balancing act between a child’s right to privacy and the right to be kept safe, but it prioritises the latter.

The Bill will include binding ministerial guidelines which will provide guidance as to the appropriate sharing of information under the scheme.

The Bill will work in tandem with the Family Violence Protection Amendments (Information Sharing) Act 2017 (not yet in effect) which outlines a number of measures regarding the information sharing between entities implemented for the purpose of measuring and managing risks of family violence.

Consequence of the Bill

Yes, the Bill does need to be complied with and there are a range of offences and penalties for relevant entities who do not comply with the measures and requirements outlined in the Bill.

Any organisation or entity which is involved with children – including maternal child health service providers, kindergartens, schools, medical service providers, and hospitals – will need to consider the ramifications of this proposed legislation. These entities will need to ensure that:

  1. They are aware of the measures outlined in the Bill.
  2. They have practical and effective systems in place to ensure compliance with these measures.

We will provide a further update as the Bill is deliberated by the Legislative Council.

If you require any assistance regarding safeguarding and reporting requirements involving children, please contact Carroll & O’Dea Lawyers for further information.

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