Information-sharing guidance bids to end confusion

Sharing information with other practitioners is key to the early identification of children and families who may be in need of support or services, new government guidance argues.

The first cross-government guidance on sharing information on children and young people, launched for consultation last week, also stresses the importance of seeing and speaking to children and young people directly.

Its publication comes in response to concerns from children’s services managers and representatives about when and how they should share information, fuelled by Lord Laming’s criticisms of the handling of Victoria Climbie’s case. Laming found that several opportunities to protect Victoria were missed as a result of practitioners and agencies failing to share information and to speak to the eight-year-old alone.

The guidance, which will be non-statutory, aims to cover all services including health, education, early years, social care, youth offending and police.

It highlights the additional problems for health professionals around information sharing given the very high threshold for the disclosure of health information set out in the NHS Code of Practice. “This is right and proper in the normal course of events, but raises particular problems in the context of caring for children,” it acknowledges.

As a result, it proposes a new two-tier approach to disclosure for health professionals. This would mean any health professional who suspected a child might be being abused or neglected could contact other professionals to seek further information without disclosing their own concerns. Only where they were satisfied that there were reasonable grounds for concern should they then consider sharing substantive information.

The guidance insists that voluntary and independent organisations working with children and young people must sign up to the broader information sharing protocols being established by their local council and other agencies, and ensure all staff and volunteers understand their role in promoting and safeguarding the welfare of children and young people.

This includes voluntary organisations providing sexual health and advice services for young people, who would need to consider any child under 13 engaged in sexual activity as the victim of a crime, and that any sexual activity involving under-17s might involve harm.

Guidance from Consultation deadline November 15.

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