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Effective Communication, Consent and Information Sharing

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

Effective communication and information sharing between agencies is essential to keep children safe and promote their welfare.

This chapter provides guidance in line with Working Together to Safeguard Children 2015 and Information sharing - Advice for Practitioners Providing Safeguarding Services to Children, Young People, Parents and Carers (Department for Education, March 2015).


Contents

  1. Effective Communication Between Agencies
  2. Effective Information Sharing
  3. Consent to Share Information
  4. Ensuring Consent is Informed
  5. Circumstances in which it may be Appropriate to Dispense with Consent
  6. Principles Underpinning Effective Information Sharing
  7. Common Concerns about Information Sharing
  8. Resolving Professional Differences of View
  9. Good Practice when Communicating with other Agencies / Services
  10. A Common Language
  11. Local Information Sharing Agreements

    Further Information

    Amendments to this Chapter


1. Effective Communication Between Agencies

Effective communication requires a culture of listening and engaging in dialogue within and across agencies. It is essential that all communication is as accurate and complete as possible, and that it is clearly recorded.

Accuracy is key; without it effective decisions cannot be made. Equally, inaccurate accounts can lead to children remaining unsafe, or to the possibility of wrongful actions being taken that affect children and adults.


2. Effective Information Sharing

Effective information-sharing underpins joint working and is a vital element of work to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.

“Early sharing of information is the key to providing effective early help where there are emerging problems. At the other end of the continuum, sharing information can be essential to put in place effective child protection services.” (Working Together to Safeguard Children 2015)

The Hull Safeguarding Children Board Threshold of Need Document describes the safeguarding continuum and provides information and guidance about decision making in relation to thresholds of need.

If professionals are unsure about whether the threshold for Significant Harm to a child has been met, advice can be requested from senior colleagues, or the Children’s Social Care Early Help and Safeguarding Hub (EHASH).

“No professional should assume that someone else will pass on information which they think may be critical to keeping a child safe. If a professional has concerns about a child’s welfare and believes they are suffering, or likely to suffer, harm, then they should share the information with Local Authority Children’s Social Care.” (Working Together to Safeguard Children 2015)

Research and experience have shown repeatedly that keeping children safe from harm requires information to be shared about:

  • A child's health and development, and exposure to possible harm;
  • A parent / carer who may need help, or may not be able to care for a child adequately and safely; and
  • Adults and other children who may pose a risk of harm to a child.

Often, it is only when information from a number of sources has been shared and is then put together, that it becomes clear a child is suffering, or likely to suffer, Significant Harm. However, when professionals share information at an early stage, this should reduce the likelihood of a child suffering Significant Harm.


3. Consent to Share Information

Issues of consent should always be considered.

Information should only be shared with the consent of the subject of the information (see the 7 Golden Rules of Information Sharing).

It is important to be open, honest and respectful with the person (and/or their family where appropriate) from the outset about why, what, how and with whom information will, or could be shared, and to seek their agreement to this sharing - unless it is unsafe or inappropriate to do so.

Each situation should be considered on a case-by-case basis. Professionals should seek advice from senior colleagues, including those in legal services, where clarification is required.

When contacting any Early Help (See Early Help Procedure) services in relation to children with additional needs, this must always be done with consent.

For consent to be valid it must be:

  • Voluntary – The decision to either consent or not to consent to information being shared must be made by the person themselves;
  • Informed – The person must be given all of the information in terms of what information will be shared; This involves being explicit with children and families about what will be shared, who will see their information, the purpose to which it will be put and the implications of sharing that information. Consent to share must be given by a person with the Capacity to do so.


4. Ensuring Consent is Informed

Consent for sharing personal information can be obtained orally or in writing. Written consent is preferable since it reduces the scope for subsequent dispute. In either case, professionals should ensure that any discussions about and decisions reached regarding consent are recorded.

For further information please see Information Sharing – How to Seek Consent.


5. Circumstances in which it may be Appropriate to Dispense with Consent

Where there is a concern that a child might be In Need under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 or suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989 contact should be made with Children's Social Care to discuss a possible referral. See Any Contacts with Children's Social Care (including Information Sharing and Referrals) Procedure for further information.

Before making a referral, parents / carers must be informed that you are making contact with Children’s Social Care - including the reasons for you doing this - and asked to give their consent to the referral being made. However, information may be shared without consent if it is in the Public Interest. This includes protecting a child from Significant Harm.

There are circumstances when it may be appropriate to dispense with the requirement to obtain consent to share information; this includes when:

  • Discussion with parents / carers could place the child or other family members at risk;
  • The child is in immediate danger (e.g. requires medical attention);
  • Discussion with parents / carers may place you or another member of staff at risk.

When sharing information without consent it is important to record why any such decision was made and the rationale for this decision.


6. Principles Underpinning Effective Information Sharing

To see the 7 golden rules of information sharing please click here.

See also Information sharing - Advice for Practitioners Providing Safeguarding Services to Children, Young People, Parents and Carers(Department for Education, March 2015).

See also Flowchart of When and How to Share Information (Department for Education, 2015).


7. Common Concerns about Information Sharing

“Fears about sharing information cannot be allowed to stand in the way of the need to promote the welfare and protect the safety of children.” (Working Together to Safeguard Children 2015)

Some practitioners will be concerned about the need to balance their duties to protect children from harm and their general duty of care towards their patient or service user. Other professionals and staff face the added dimension of being involved in caring for or supporting more than one family member - the abused child, siblings, and an alleged abuser.

It should be remembered that in English Law, where there are concerns that a child is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm, the overriding consideration is to safeguard the child.


8. Resolving Professional Differences of View

Where there are any professional differences about a particular decision, course of action or lack of action, you should consult with a Senior Manager within your own organisation and have a discussion about next steps. See also Resolving Inter-agency Disagreements Guidance (Escalation Policy).


9. Good Practice when Communicating with Other Agencies / Services

  • Is your reason for contacting the other service / agency clear?
  • Is there consent to share information?
  • Are both parties clear about the content of the information sharing?
  • Are there any actions arising from the information sharing?
  • If so, what are they and who will be responsible for undertaking them?

By the end of the contact both parties should be clear about:

  • What information has been shared;
  • The purpose of the sharing;
  • What each party has agreed to do as a result of the communication; and
  • What is being recorded about the contact.


10. A Common Language

A local Serious Case Review published in 2010 concluded that there was a need to ‘ensure that there are revised and updated Hull Safeguarding Children Board guidelines and procedures to specifically address the issue of effective communication between agencies’. In response the guide below was written, which explains clearly what is meant by the following:

To Seek Advice and Guidance

Seeking advice and guidance at any time, making a general query or perhaps consulting with a specialist colleague within your own organisation (or from another agency) may enhance the work that you are doing with a child or family at any stage.

Alternatively It could be that you want further information about available services or that you want some specialist advice or perhaps need to consult about a particular issue or query for instance to ask if making a referral is appropriate.

The name of the child and family should be anonymised at this stage unless agreement to share the information has already been obtained.

It is vital that you record that you have sought information and advice in your own records. The agency you are contacting may not record this information, particularly if the case is not open or active with them, or you have provided anonymised information. It should be agreed between agencies in this situation as to who records what information.

At the end of the conversation both parties must be clear about and record the outcome and the next course of action.

Signpost to Another Service

The definition to signpost is to “indicate direction towards”. It is an informal process whereby a professional or a family is shown in the direction of a service.

If someone is signposted to a service it is because accessing the service may enhance the family's quality of life, but there would be no increased risk to the child should the service not be accessed.

No agency is responsible for the monitoring or recording of signposting.

Share Information

To share information is the term used to describe the situation where practitioners use their professional judgement and experience on a case by case basis to decide whether and what personal information to share with other practitioners in order to meet the needs of a child or young person.

Decisions to request and share information must be considered in terms of whether they are necessary and proportionate.

Request for Information

A request for information is a term commonly used when a professional asks another professional or agency for information that they may hold about an individual child or family in order to add to their own assessment and inform a package of support. When requesting information from another service this should always be done with knowledge and consent of the person that the information is about, unless the conditions for dispensing with consent are present.

For more information about the recording of decisions to share information see Recording Keeping Guidance.

Referral

If you think that by not accessing a particular service, a child's situation could deteriorate then a referral to Children’s Social Care is appropriate. However, a referral is only the start of the process. You as the referrer have a responsibility to monitor that the service has been taken up and the child's situation has improved.

Sometimes you may need to draw on other support services, for example when an intervention has not achieved the desired outcomes and the child requires more specialist or sustained support. A specific gap in services to meet a need or any level of concern warrants follow up and monitoring to ensure there is no risk to children.


11. Local Information Sharing Agreements

There are various layers of information sharing agreements which are relevant locally. The Humber Information Sharing Charter provides a framework for the effective and secure sharing of information in accordance with legal requirements, ethical boundaries and good practice across the Humber region.

Information Sharing Protocols

As is made clear in the Humber Information Sharing Charter, individual information sharing protocols may be drawn up between organisations delivering services of similar scope. Each protocol should describe the common contexts and shared objectives.

The focus of each of these protocols is the particular purpose underlying the need to share information, who is sharing, specific information that is being shared, the legal basis for the sharing of the information and the processes in place to ensure that information is securely exchanged and managed.

Agreements should be signed on behalf of each partner by a senior manager with responsibility for operational delivery.


Further Information

The Data Protection Act 1998

Section 115, Disclosure of Information (Crime and Disorder Act 1998)

Caldicott Principles

The Fraser Guidelines (Gillick competency) assessment determines the child’s capacity to consent to treatment; not their capacity to consent for information to be shared.

Department for Education Guidance

Information Sharing – How to Identify which Rules Apply when Sharing Information

Information Sharing – How to Seek Consent

Information Sharing – How to Record Decisions

Information Sharing – How to Share Information Securely

Amendments to this Chapter

In June 2015, this guidance was updated to take account of recently published Department for Education Advice on Information Sharing for Practitioners Providing Safeguarding Services to Children, Young people, Parents and Carers.

End.