Information sharing framework to protect children

  • Anne Tolley
  • Amy Adams
Social Development Justice

Justice Minister Amy Adams and Social Development Minister Anne Tolley say that a comprehensive information sharing framework is to be created to keep vulnerable children and young people safe from harm, as part of the radical overhaul of care and protection.

The framework, a recommendation of the independent expert panel which reviewed the care system, will provide clarity and legal protection for agencies and professionals to share information if they have concerns about the immediate or long-term safety of a child or young person. It will also require them to share information if asked by other agencies, including the new Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki, if a child’s safety is at risk, unless there is a compelling reason not to do so.

This will support the Ministry to be proactive and take early, preventative action rather than simply respond to a crisis once a child has been harmed.

“The vulnerable children’s framework goes hand in hand with the proposed family violence information sharing provisions, which will have similar safeguards around the use of data and legal protection for agencies and professionals. The two regimes will work together to help identify and protect those who are most vulnerable in our society,” says Ms Adams.

“Feedback on our extensive family violence reforms was that safety must be the primary consideration. We don’t want people with concerns about vulnerable children worrying more about falling foul of privacy rules than preventing harm and abuse.”

“The safety and wellbeing of children must always come first, if we are serious about a new and truly child-centred operating model for care and protection,” says Mrs Tolley.

“Too often in the case of a child’s death or abuse we find that a lot of people held little bits of information which, if shared, could have prevented a tragedy.

Currently, many professionals and agencies default to not sharing information because of legal risks, or work in silos. They need to be given the confidence to come forward so that the new Ministry can see the whole picture of a child’s life, better assess the risks and take action to keep the child safe.”   

The vulnerable children’s information framework will:

  • move away from a passive regime where agencies have a discretion to exchange information, to a proactive regime where information should be exchanged unless there are compelling reasons not to
  • remove the uncertainty, and any consequential liabilities, facing professionals over the information they can exchange through an extension of the immunity for good faith disclosure already provided in law
  • set a clear expectation that any agency or person with responsibilities for the welfare and safety of children and young people can use and share personal information about a child or young person
  • expand the powers of the Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki, to compulsorily acquire information when performing statutory investigations or responses to reports of concern
  • use a broad definition of the ‘child welfare and protection sector’ (the sector) for the purpose of information sharing that includes departments, Crown entities, district health boards, school boards, early learning services, government funded NGOs, health practitioners, carers, and children’s workers.

The start date for the framework is dependent on enabling legislation being passed in Parliament, and a Bill is scheduled to be introduced by the end of the year. This will also contain a principle that states a child or young person must be informed if their personal information is to be disclosed, and that their views will be taken into account.

The cost of implementing and operating the framework is being worked through as part of the Budget process. This includes training and guidance for agencies and professionals to embed the new ways of sharing information.

The relevant Cabinet paper can be found at:

Questions and Answers:

What are we proposing?

New legislation will be introduced to Parliament to promote the safety and wellbeing of vulnerable children and young people through more timely and consistent information sharing between agencies.

Right now, information sharing does not always take place even when it is in the best interests of the child. Agencies and professionals can hold different pieces of information. These are not always put together to form an overall picture of risk, which could help detect neglect and abuse earlier.

How will it work?

The new legislation will enable any individual who has functions associated with the objectives of the Act (i.e. the welfare and safety of children and young people) to use and share personal information for that purpose, confidently. As long as they act in good faith they will have immunity from civil, criminal, or disciplinary proceedings for information disclosures. This will enable information to flow between those who need to know it.

There will be a new presumption that child welfare and protection agencies and professionals have an obligation to share personal information about a child or young person, when requested by another protection agency or professional, unless there are good grounds for not doing so.

The new legislation will extend the coverage of section 66 of the Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act 1989 Act so that the new Ministry of Vulnerable Children Oranga Tamariki will be able to obtain information from a broader range of agencies and people.  It will be able to seek and obtain information about the child and their family for the purpose of deciding on the action it should take to a respond to a report of concern about a child.

What’s the problem with the current arrangement?

As a consequence of current legal settings many professionals and agencies have defaulted to not sharing information to manage their organisational and professional risk, often to the detriment of children and young people.

The current framework has a number of information disclosure provisions to assist Child, Youth and Family but it has limitations, these include:

  • information only flows one-way
  • data-sets are not linked
  • powers to acquire information are deficient
  • the interface between the Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act 1989 and Privacy Acts has proven to be complex.

What will this mean for agencies?

The new legislation establishes a general principle that the welfare of a child or young person takes priority over any professional duty of confidentiality other than professional legal privilege. It will provide clarity for individuals and agencies working in child welfare and protection about their rights and obligations related to information sharing.

Individuals will have immunity from civil, criminal, or disciplinary proceedings for all information disclosures so long as they are made in good faith.

How will this help vulnerable children?

Accurate and full information is vital if we are to properly protect and support vulnerable children. These changes will enable information to flow more freely between professionals and agencies, enabling risk and need to be identified and acted on earlier. Having more information available will support more accurate assessments of the needs of vulnerable children and young people and will give social workers better tools to support them.

What kind of privacy safeguards will be included?

The new regime retains all existing rights to complain to the Privacy Commissioner and the Human Rights Review Tribunal.  It creates a presumption that information will be used for specific purposes, and immunity for using the information in good faith, but a person can still complain about the misuse of their personal information for inappropriate purposes.  They can also complain about other types of breach of the Privacy Act such as refusing them access to their own personal information.

The new framework strikes the right balance between the reasonable expectation of privacy and keeping children safe.  There are safeguards to ensure privacy interests are protected.

What else is the Government doing to improve information sharing?

Work is underway to both strengthen the privacy framework and ensure appropriate information sharing.  This includes the Privacy Bill, which will update the Privacy Act 1993 to modernise its language, provide enhanced legal certainty and strengthen privacy protections.

New protections include mandatory data breach notification, the power to issue compliance notices for breaches of the Act and enhanced own motion investigation powers for the Privacy Commissioner.

The Government is also working on a range of information-sharing initiatives such as:

  • the Enhancing Identity Verification and Border Processes Legislation Bill, (responding to the Smith/Traynor Inquiry) is currently being considered by the Law and Order Select Committee, and
  • amendments to the Domestic Violence Act 1995 that include information sharing provisions to better protect victims of family violence.