The local authority, health and police are the three statutory safeguarding partners for children. In 2018, these partners were given new legal duties to improve the service provided to children via the implementation of multi-agency safeguarding partnerships (MASPs).
On 30 September 2019, 131 MASP went live, covering 151 local authority areas across England. The question I would like to explore is what are the perceived barriers to effectively sharing information that MASPs will need to overcome?
Sharing information enables practitioners and agencies to identify and provide appropriate services that safeguard and promote the welfare of children. The reforms to the Children Act in 2017 and the Working Together to Safeguard Children – Statutory Guidance provide helpful advice to overcome perceived legal barriers:
1–Data protection legislation is a barrier to sharing information: The Data Protection Act (DPA) 2018 and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) do not prohibit the collection and sharing of personal information, but rather, provide a framework to ensure that personal information is shared appropriately.
2–Consent is always needed to share personal information: Wherever possible, you should seek consent and be open and honest with the individual from the outset as to why, what, how and with whom, their information will be shared. There are clearly some circumstances where it is not appropriate to seek consent because to gain consent would put a young person’s safety at risk.
3–Personal information collected by one agency cannot be disclosed to another: This is not the case, unless the information is to be used for a purpose incompatible with the purpose for which it was originally collected. In the case of children in need, or children at risk of significant harm, it is difficult to foresee circumstances where information law would be a barrier to sharing personal information with other practitioners.
4–IT systems are often a barrier to effective information-sharing: IT systems, such as the Child Protection Information Sharing project (CP-IS), can be useful for information sharing. IT systems are most valuable when practitioners use the shared data to make more informed decisions about how to support and safeguard a child.
Therefore, information should be shared and can be shared without breaking the law.
Some perceive it to be unethical to share information between safeguarding partners because it could lead to a negative outcome for the child and their family. Practitioners who have seen information from other agencies could prejudge the case before meeting with the family to gather first-hand evidence. In my opinion, protecting the child from harm and supporting their health and wellbeing through information sharing across partners, alongside appropriate supervision and system processes to ensure cases are not prejudged will overcome these ethical barriers.
Safeguards are built into automated solutions for digitally sharing information between agencies. Systems such as Xantura’s ‘OneView’ solution ensure information governance and consent laws are not broken.
Personal information, such as a name, is sent to the platform to be matched across other data sources. The separate sensitive information – such as case notes – is then sent to the data centre and combined with non-identifiable sensitive data from other data sources using an ‘encrypted key’. Only the agency can link the personal information to the sensitive information.
If requested, OneView applies several data analysis techniques to the sensitive data. The risk profile of each individual and household is assessed and through predictive analytics, a future trajectory of need at both an individual and aggregated level is determined. The assessment of risk can only be linked back to personal information by the agency itself.
Users are assigned data-sharing protocols which control the information they can see. System controls are developed with the agency to ensure information is not accessed without consent or without it being determined that to seek consent could be to the detriment of the child’s wellbeing. All data accessed is captured by a clear audit trail.
To drive benefits from the platform, practitioners need to use the information to inform decision-making. This is achieved through the automatic production of case summaries, alerts and analytical insights.
The reforms to the Children Act clearly articulate that perceived legal barriers to information sharing can be overcome with robust information governance and data sharing protocols. The ethical barriers can be overcome through effective supervision of decision-making.
Operational solutions to share data while ensuring organisations stay within the information governance laws and ethical boundaries already exist. If there is the will, then the new MASPs provide a framework to enable partners to deliver digital information-sharing.
Graham Bright is change implementation adviser – public services at Xantura