NZCCSS has said ‘No’ to a request to join an information sharing agreement for Children’s Teams working with vulnerable children. NZCCSS believes that changes to the Privacy Act is a better way to deal with the privacy for those children.

Children’s Teams are the new way of working with vulnerable children. These Teams are being rolled out throughout the country as part of the Children’s Action Plan. Vulnerable Children who don’t meet the statutory ‘in risk’ definition to be investigated by Child Youth and Family, but who may be considered for referral to a local Children’s Team may need to have a range of information gathered from their service providers to assess their eligibility for acceptance into a Team. In order to achieve this health, education and social services workers are being asked to be more sharing of their clients’ information.   The Approved Information Sharing Agreement (AISA) is the mechanism for creating a legal capacity for appropriate information to be shared with the Children’s Teams to enable this referral assessment to be made. In essence it is a legal ‘work around’ the requirements of the Privacy Act.

In order not to have to create a new schedule of organisations who have agreed to be part of the AISA process every time and organisation wants to join (or leave) the AISA arrangements, “umbrella organisations” like NZCCSS have been asked by the Children’s Action Plan Directorate to be a representative Party and sign off on the AISA on behalf of their members.   After feedback from Council denominational representatives, the Child and Family Policy Group and a range of member social services organisations. NZCCSS has declined the offer to be a Representative Party to the Approved Information Sharing Agreement.

While NZCCSS agrees that the controlled sharing of appropriate information regarding vulnerable children does have the capacity to provide families with the support they will need in order to become more resilient, we do not agree the AISA and the Representative Party arrangement will achieve this. We believe that in order to give confidence to health, education and social services professionals, their professional bodies and educators a clear change in the Privacy Act is required. The AISA legal ‘work around’ is unlikely to give the level of confidence to create a changed ethical and practice framework regarding information sharing.

Local Level Children’s Teams

NZCCSS realises that a number of its members, in order to participate in Children’s Teams at a local level,  will agree to signing off on the AISA agreements through other Representative Parties. However, at a national level NZCCSS will continue to promote a change in the Privacy Act as the best, clearest and most efficient mechanism to provide appropriate protection for the privacy of vulnerable children and their families. This change will also give social services professionals real confidence to change their information sharing practices in order to increase the wellbeing of our children.

Changes to the Privacy Act should include intensive engagement with the sectors involved and be followed up with well-resourced training to ensure the new approaches are well understood. Throughout this process it will of course be critical to ensure any sharing of information is appropriate, is only for the purposes of ensuring the vulnerable child and family are properly engaged with, and is conducted in a well-controlled environment.