Children's Protection (Information Sharing) Amendment Bill

(Continued from 29 September 2016.)

Ms SANDERSON ( Adelaide ) ( 10:51 :22 ): I rise to support the Children's Protection (Information Sharing) Amendment Bill 2016. This is an extremely important bill with regard to the collaboration between agencies involved in the child protection system. As noted in the recent Select Committee on Statutory Child Protection and Care in South Australia in 2015, the child protection system is not merely the lead agency with statutory responsibility to respond to notifications of abuse and neglect, the South Australian child protection system is a complex web of government and non-government institutions, organisations and agencies, each with a specific and equally important role to play.

In addition to the lead agency, there are many other government and non-government organisations that provide a range of services, from early intervention programs aimed at family preservation through to out-of-home care. There are health institutions that provide assessment and treatment services for abused and neglected children and a myriad of agencies that intersect with the lead agencies, such as domestic violence services, drug and alcohol services, and services for homeless children and youth. There are services for children and families involved in the justice system, for the specific needs of Aboriginal children, and for children with mental health concerns (such as CAMHS).

These and many others make up the South Australian child protection system, and it goes without saying that information sharing between these agencies is crucial for the system to function. Information sharing is, indeed, a stated requirement of the State Ombudsman's Information Sharing Guidelines for promoting safety and well being, since information sharing is fundamental to effective referral, service planning and case management.

Despite this, in 2016 commissioner Nyland found that significant obstacles to information sharing persist, that information sharing between agencies is often poor and that there was a silo approach to service delivery. Similar sentiments were also stated in the later review in 2003, the Mullighan royal commission into Children in State Care 2008, the Select Committee on Statutory Child Protection and Care in South Australia in 2015 and numerous annual reports from the Child Death and Serious Injury Review Committee.

The Child Death and Serious Injury Review Committee has expressed concerns about information sharing in the child protection system over many years. Over the nine-year period between 2005 and 2014 the committee identified consistent themes that contributed to negative outcomes for children; one of those recurring themes was the need to seek out and share information from other agencies—as in information sharing—and for interagency collaboration.

The committee's review of six seriously injured children in the northern suburbs in 2013 raised, once again, the critical need for effective interagency communication. It was the committee's view that had all agencies got together and asked the right questions early in the investigation the children's circumstances would have been seen as imperative.

Still, in 2015-16, commissioner Nyland found that a consistent theme in evidence before the commission was that many agencies continued to fail in information sharing. Commissioner Nyland also found that there was a persistent culture that privileges privacy and confidentiality over the need to share information to the relevant health, safety and wellbeing of children. In light of these findings, recommendation 242 of the Nyland report is that the South Australian government:

Amend the Children's Protection Act 1993:

(a) to permit and, in appropriate cases, require the sharing of information between prescribed government and non-government agencies that have responsibilities for the health, safety or wellbeing of children where it would promote those issues; and

(b) to require prescribed government and non-government agencies to take reasonable step to coordinate decision making and the delivery of services for children.

The Children's Protection (Information Sharing) Amendment Bill 2016 aligns with recommendation 242 of the Nyland report in making provisions for both government and non-government agencies associated with the South Australian child protection system to share prescribed information and documents in the foremost interests of the child's safety and wellbeing.

Further to this, the bill also requires that the responsible ministers of the two significant pieces of legislation relevant to child protection—the Children's Protection Act and the Family and Community Services Act 1972—will ensure consistent and coordinated decision-making. This children's protection amendment bill furthers the mandatory requirement that information is shared between all agencies involved in the child protection system, and most importantly it privileges the best interests of the child over the current culture of privacy, confidentiality and poor collaboration. I commend this bill to the house.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. T.R. Kenyon .