Victorian schools, kindergartens and childcare centres will soon be authorised to share and receive sensitive information about vulnerable children without parental consent, in a bid to better spot early warning signs of family violence or neglect.
On April 19, the start of term two, education workers will join the Child Information Sharing Scheme, an initiative driven by the royal commissions into family violence and institutional responses to child sexual abuse.
Liana Buchanan says the scheme will save children’s lives.Credit:Justin McManus
Victorian Principal Commissioner for Children and Young People Liana Buchanan, who has pushed for greater information sharing among agencies that work with children, said the scheme would save young people’s lives.
“We see in so many of our child death inquiries a situation where different services that have contact with the child or family have bits of information that suggests a family is struggling, a child is at risk … but no single service has the full picture,” she said.
“The implications of that is that children continue to live with sustained neglect, violence or harm, and in some cases failure to share information between services has had a lethal consequence for the child.”
Hospitals, Ambulance Victoria and community health centres will also join the scheme, which is currently limited to agencies such as Victoria Police, the Department of Human Services and youth justice, sexual assault and mental health services.
The Department of Education and Training has been coaching education workers on their responsibilities under the scheme since March last year, a spokesperson said.
Advice to educators states that “consent is not required from any person to share information relevant to assessing or managing family violence risk to a child”.
“However, you should seek the views of the child and non-violent family members where it is safe, reasonable and appropriate to do so.”
Community Child Care Association executive director Julie Price said the reform would resolve a problem in which childcare services were sometimes constrained from passing on information about vulnerable children due to privacy laws.
“In the main, [childcare] services would still be seeking families’ consent around sharing information, but there are cases where families won’t give consent and sometimes that is for children in the most vulnerable positions,” Ms Price said.
Ms Buchanan said lengthy COVID-19 lockdowns in Victoria last year underlined the critical role of schools and kindergartens in monitoring vulnerable children.
Many of those children “became less visible, and at the same time we knew risks within families were heightened because of lockdown”, she said.
“Last year absolutely confirmed for us that schools are much more than a place for academic learning; for lots of children they provide their safest hours in the day and play a really important role in supporting child safety.”
Crime trends involving children during last year’s extended coronavirus lockdown were inconsistent.
The number of family, domestic or sexual violence incidents attended by Ambulance Victoria and involving young people increased by 11.1 per cent in the third quarter of 2020 compared with the same three-month period in 2019. But the number of police-attended family violence incidents involving a victim aged 17 or under increased by just 0.9 per cent in the same period, while emergency room presentations decreased by 37.3 per cent.
A regulatory impact statement on the scheme – which is estimated to cost $216 million over 10 years – found complex legislative frameworks for information sharing helped create “a risk-averse culture in relation to information sharing”.
If you or anyone you know needs support, you can contact the National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732).
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