Child welfare and juvenile justice

69.102 Child welfare and juvenile justice jurisdictions are the responsibility of the states and territories under existing federal arrangements. Children and young people who come into contact with either the child welfare or juvenile justice systems often have large amounts of personal information collected about them, much of it of a sensitive nature. Legislation in each jurisdiction deals with the handling of records in that jurisdiction containing personal information of children and young people.[126]

69.103 A privacy-related issue that has arisen in the area of child welfare is the sharing of information between agencies where the safety of children and young people is at issue—for example, where there is evidence that the child may be at risk of physical or sexual abuse. All states and territories have laws in place that, in practice, provide exceptions to privacy laws by allowing or requiring disclosure of personal information in certain circumstances. A number of bodies, however, 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.[127]

69.104 The ALRC did not receive any submissions raising specific concerns about the handling of child welfare or juvenile justice records. Issues surrounding the sharing of information in appropriate circumstances were, however, raised as matters of general concern.

ALRC’s view

69.105 The issue of sharing information in child welfare and other contexts is considered in Chapter 14. The ‘Use and Disclosure’ principle, as discussed in Chapter 25, seeks to improve the balance between the need for information sharing in child protection contexts and maintaining an appropriate level of privacy protection. In particular, the ALRC has recommended removing the imminency requirement from the exception to the principle, allowing disclosure where necessary to lessen or prevent a serious threat to an individual’s life, health or safety without having to prove that the threat was imminent.[128] The recommended changes to the ‘Use and Disclosure’ principle, together with improved clarity of privacy laws generally and better information sharing practices, should alleviate many of the concerns raised in this context by removing legal and practical barriers to the release of personal information in appropriate situations.

[126] See, eg, Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 (NSW); Juvenile Justice Act 1992 (Qld).

[127] New South Wales Ombudsman, Report of Reviewable Deaths in 2004 (2005); Child Death Review Team, Fatal Assault of Children and Young People: Fact Sheet (2003) New South Wales Commission for Children and Young People; Community Services Ministers’ Advisory Council, Submission PR 47, 28 July 2006.

[128] See Rec 25–3.