It is imperative that practitioners working with children and young people share information when it is in the interests of the child/young person to do so.
According to Every child matters/Children’s Workforce Development Council 2009, “clear and accurate records are essential to track an agency or practitioner’s involvement with a child/family and to ensure sound decision making. Safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children often requires information to be shared between agencies supporting the child. By doing this, agencies can collaborate to make interventions evidence-based and effective.”
Adults who work with children and young people will come to know most of the personal information like date of birth, address, contact details and sensitive information about behavioural issues, grades, medical records, family background, information about children with divorced parents, etc. It is the responsibility of the adults working in the setting to keep this information confidential.
All practitioners who have access to this information about children and young people have the duty to preserve confidence. Everyone’s right to confidentiality must be respected at all times and every personal information must be treated with care and kept securely. As teaching assistants, we need to follow very strictly the rules of confidentiality and in normal circumstances children and young people who are the subject of the information, will be required to give consent before information about them can be shared. However, there are cases where information sharing is essential to enable early intervention. In fact, early interventions may help children, young people and families who need additional services to achieve positive outcomes and reduce inequalities between disadvantaged children and others. Such interventions could include additional help with learning, development, health services, help and support to move away from criminal or anti-social behaviour, or support parents in developing parenting skills.
Also, in case of alleged abuse or suspected harm, practitioners must consider breaching confidentiality. These serious problems may include being harmed by somebody else, for example a genuine suspicion of a child abuse at home or bullying at school; or being at risk by self-abuse or suicidal intentions. Information of this nature cannot be kept confidential as the child’s life and well-being are more important than confidentiality principles. Seeking consent should be the first option, but if consent cannot be obtained to the sharing of the information or is refused where seeking it is likely to undermine the prevention or the prosecution of a crime, the question of whether there is a sufficient public interest must be judged by the practitioner on the facts of each case.
Therefore, if a practitioner has a concern about possible significant abuse or harm to a child, he/she should not regard refusal of consent as necessarily precluding the sharing of the confidential information. The general rule is that if we believe a child is at a significant risk of harm then we should pass on personal information to those who would be able to prevent harm. Every setting should have policies and procedures that must be followed in these circumstances.
According to the guidance Information sharing – Advice for practitioners providing safeguarding services to children, young people, parents and carers 2005, “information cannot be shared without the consent of the parent, young person of 16 or over or a child, unless one or more of the following circumstances apply:
– Where failure to share information may result in harm to the child or young person;
– Where failure to share information may result in serious harm to an adult;
– Where failure to share information may result in a crime being committed;
– Where failure to share information may result in a crime not being detected, including where seeking consent might lead to interference with any potential investigation;
– Where the young person is deemed to have insufficient understanding to withhold consent and therefore cannot override parental consent;
– Where the young person is deemed to have sufficient understanding to override the parental refusal to give consent;
– Where there is a statutory duty or Court Order requiring information to be shared.”
Practitioners must always consider the safety and welfare of a child as paramount when making decisions on whether to share information about the child without consent. In many instances a failure to pass on information, that might have prevented a child suffering harm, would be far more serious and dangerous than an incident of unjustified disclosure. When in doubt, it is important to seek advice and consultation within a time frame which is not more damaging to the child’s interests.
As local areas move towards partnership working, the professional and confident sharing of information between services is becoming increasingly important in delivering benefits for children, young people and their families. Partnership working means that everyone who works with children and young people has a responsibility for keeping them safe: this involves identifying concerns, sharing information and taking prompt action. Information sharing is vital to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children and young people. A key factor in many serious case reviews has been the failure to record information, to share it, to understand the significance of the information shared, and to take appropriate prompt action in relation to suspected abuse or neglect. For this reason, practitioners should explain to children, young people and their families when and how information could be shared and whilst maintaining confidentiality, they must be encouraged to share information with a line manager or the relevant organisation (Child Protection, Police, etc.) if this is felt to be appropriate. Adults working with children and young people, should base their information sharing decisions considering the safety and well-being of the people who may be affected by their actions. If they decide to share an information then it is crucial to record what has been shared, with whom and for what purpose.
Online I have found a case study example of justified breach of confidentiality at school, that I would like to report in this essay: A and B are classmates at secondary school and friends. B has told A that he hates his dad as he beats him up and has warned him that if he discloses this to others he will lock him up in a dark room. A is worried about his friend and tells this to his mother. His mother informs this to the class teacher. One day when children were changing into their PE uniforms, the teacher notices some bruises on his back. When she asked B about this he keeps quiet.
In this case the teacher should inform the line manager about the incident and involve the police if necessary. In fact, the police have the responsibility to investigate criminal offences committed against children and young people and in case the police are involved, practitioners may be asked to show photographs for the prosecution to prove the abuse. In normal circumstances, adults working with children should be careful when taking photographs of children for displays as parental permission should always be taken before giving their photographs for any publication, but If they are approached by a police officer for some investigation then their photographs should be given even if there is no parental permission for this.
In conclusion, confidential information can be shared if there is sufficient public interest. The question of whether there is a sufficient public interest must be judged by the practitioner on the facts of each case. In deciding about information sharing, the practitioner must weigh up what might happen if the information is shared against what might happen if it is not shared and decide using professional judgement. Information should be shared appropriately and securely, making sure of the following:
• Only share what is necessary to achieve the purpose, without adding personal opinions;
• Share only with the person who really needs to know the information;
• Confirm the information is accurate and up-to-date;
• Understand the limits of any consent given;
• Check who will see the information and share the information in a secure way. We should always confirm the identity of the person we are talking to;
• Establish with the recipient whether they intend to pass the information on to other people and ensure that they understand their limits;
• Keep a record of the decision made regarding the matter and the reasons for it, whether the information is going to be shared or not;
• In case we decide to share, then record what we have shared, with whom and for what purpose.