Less restrictive information sharing regime needed for the safety of children

The Law Society says there is a case for a less restrictive information sharing regime for the safety and welfare of children at risk than that proposed by the Privacy Information (Sharing) Bill (Bill). 

While the Bill lowers the threshold for sharing information from “serious and imminent threat” to “serious threat”, the Law Society believes that this threshold for sharing information and mandatory reporting in relation to children at risk is still too high and will deter reporting.

The Law Society’s submission on the Bill was presented to Parliament’s Justice and Electoral Committee today by Caroline Hannan from its Family Law Section and Jason McHerron from its Public and Administrative Law Committee.

Ms Hannan quoted Justice Minister Judith Collins’s statement in the first reading of the Bill: “Too often after a tragedy we hear that different agencies had different information, which, if it had been shared and acted on, would have saved a child’s life.”

“This Bill will not achieve this objective or that envisaged by the Green Paper for Vulnerable Children,” Ms Hannan said.

Ms Hannan said that the Bill only covered agencies delivering public services and did not cover individuals. Therefore it may not deliver adequate information sharing when a child was at risk.

The Law Society agreed with the Green Paper that, among other things, improved information sharing is needed between professionals who are working with children, such as teachers, social workers, GPs, nurses, psychologists, police officers and therapists, for the purpose of protecting those who may be at risk of harm.

To address these issues, the Law Society recommended that new legislation be introduced (such as a Children’s Protection Act) with provisions specifically relating to information sharing for the protection of children at risk. The aim would be to provide a “one-stop shop”, for legislative provisions relating to the sharing of information between professionals and others working in the area of child welfare and safety.   

“Such an Act is essential for the protection of our children,” Ms Hannan said.

The Law Society believed that by making it clear the amendment was allowing information-sharing relating to the safety, welfare or well-being of children, it sent a clear message about the value New Zealand placed on protecting children.

The Law Society considered that overall the Bill appeared to achieve the objective of facilitating appropriate public sector information sharing within a framework of openness, transparency and accountability, which accorded appropriate weight to privacy issues. 

However, several of the protections recommended by the Law Commission did not appear in the Bill.  The Law Society recommended the inclusion of several such protections into the Bill as a check against the erosion of individual privacy which necessarily results from increased sharing of personal information.

Contact: Caroline Hannan

Phone: (04) 499 6293