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NSW Department of Family and Community Services (FACS) has proposed changes to allow NSW prescribed bodies to share child protection information with child protection agencies in other Australian states and territories.
Under proposed amendments to Chapter 16A of the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Regulation 2012 (NSW), information related to the safety, welfare or wellbeing of children or young people may be disclosed to child protection agencies in other jurisdictions, provided the disclosing body is satisfied there are appropriate privacy arrangements and document controls in place interstate. The information can only be used for the purpose for which it was disclosed.
Currently, the FACS Secretary can disclose information to an interstate child protection officer if they consider it necessary to do so to enable that officer to exercise their functions under law. The proposed changes will allow a broad range of bodies, not just the FACS Secretary, to disclose information. This will include specific categories of not-for-profit organisations, such as organisations providing voluntary out-of-home care. Individuals who disclose information in good faith under the scheme will be protected form liability.
FACS has foreshadowed that under the new scheme, interstate agencies will have direct access to information relating to the safety, welfare and wellbeing of children, including data created by the Education, Justice and Health departments.
NSW is taking a leading role in cross-jurisdictional information sharing, along with Queensland. Cross-jurisdictional information sharing between child protection agencies has been legislated in Queensland, with the relevant provisions taking effect on 29 January 2018. Reforms to the information sharing scheme in the ACT commenced in December 2017, however they do not address sharing information with entities outside the ACT.
In Victoria, reforms are currently being considered by the Legislative Assembly. The proposed amendment will allow designated information sharing entities to share information for the purpose of promoting the wellbeing or safety of a child or group of children. These reforms do not include cross-jurisdictional sharing arrangements, but it is possible that non-Victorian agencies will be designated as information sharing entities under the regulations.
In South Australia, the new Children and Young People (Safety) Act 2017 will commence on a date to be proclaimed. The new Act provides for information sharing within a range of government bodies South Australia, as well as with a person or body that provides services to children and young people or their families for or on behalf of the Department. The new Act retains the previous interstate information sharing arrangement, which allows the Chief Executive to disclose information to an interstate officer if that it is necessary to do so to enable the interstate officer to perform duties or exercise powers under a child welfare law or an interstate law.
The law in Tasmania, Western Australia the Northern Territory allows information sharing between authorised entities within their own jurisdictions. The CEO of their respective child protection agencies can also share information with an interstate child protection officer. These jurisdictions have not announced plans to introduce additional cross-jurisdictional sharing arrangements, like those expected in NSW.
The NSW government is yet to introduce a Bill enacting the proposed changes. Not-for-profit Law will provide a further update as the law changes in this area.