A central feature of an inter-agency response is the capacity of member agencies to share relevant information about the child so that a joint and complementary strategy is agreed to provide services that the child needs.
In its recent report on privacy, For Your Information: Australian Privacy Law and Practice (2008), the ALRC noted that a number of bodies have identified instances where a child has been seriously injured or killed by a parent where disclosure of information about the parent’s behaviour to appropriate service providers could have helped to prevent the injury or death. Reviews into child deaths have also highlighted the need for increased collaboration through information sharing in order to protect children from serious harm and death through abuse and neglect.
It is now widely recognised in both Australia and abroad, that the best outcomes for children and young people—in terms of their health, development and safety needs—are achieved by adopting a collaborative interagency response. The advantages of the major players—namely the police, the child protection agency and possibly the department of health—collaborating are many, and include:
- the ability of agencies to combine the information that they have about a child or young person so that they can appreciate the full context of the circumstances of the child;
- requiring a child or young person to submit to one investigation and interviewing process only rather than having to repeat the same information to different agency staff, thereby reducing the trauma and distress on the victim; and
- ensuring that the child or young person receives the services that are needed, and that those services complement each other.
The Commissions’ preliminary view is that all jurisdictions should ensure that its legislative and administrative frameworks facilitate a collaborative and cooperative approach between human service and justice agencies. At a minimum, all child protection legislation should contain express provisions permitting information about a child and his or her family to be shared between the police and prescribed bodies where the information relates to the safety, welfare and wellbeing of a child, and where such information is needed for the investigation and prosecution of alleged offences against children. To facilitate information sharing, consideration should be given to establishing a shared database containing basic information which intra-state agencies can access readily.
Proposal 13–5 States and territories should ensure that best practice features of collaborative models of child protection are adopted, including:
- legislative provisions that allow agencies (including federal agencies) to share relevant information about children and families to make accurate assessments of the needs of children and families and to ensure that appropriate programs relative to those needs are delivered in a timely and coordinated way;
- the establishment of a shared database which contains basic information about a child or family and that authorised agencies can access to see quickly which other agencies may be dealing with a particular child or family; and
- the development of guidelines to assist agencies to clarify their respective roles and functions, to assist them when performing functions under the legislation, and to assist them to resolve any issues that may arise.
Australian Law Reform Commission, For Your Information: Australian Privacy Law and Practice, ALRC 108 (2008), [69.103].
Victorian Child Death Review Committee, Annual Report of Inquiries into the Deaths of Children Known to Child Protection (2009), 47; NSW Ombudsman, The Death of Ebony: The Need for an Effective Interagency Response to Children at Risk (2009), 53; NSW Ombudsman, The Death of Dean Shillingsworth: Critical Challenges in the Context of Reforms to the Child Protection System (2009), 14.