Just do it anyway

We’ve just been looking at the revised edition of the catchily titled government guidance: “what to do if you’re worried a child is being abused”.

Actually it’s about:

“what you should do if you have concerns about children in order to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, including those who are suffering, or at risk of suffering, significant harm”

…thus deepening the conflation of abuse (a crime against a child) and the more general territory of an (unabused) child’s need for services of some kind.

The advice to practitioners on gaining consent before sharing confidential information with other practitioners contains the following:

3.9 Even where sharing of confidential information is not authorised, you may lawfully share it if this can be justified in the public interest. Seeking consent should be the first option, if appropriate. Where consent cannot be obtained to the sharing of the information or is refused or where seeking it is likely to undermine the prevention, detection or prosecution of a crime, the question of whether there is a sufficient public interest must be judged by the practitioner on the facts of each case. Therefore, where you have a concern about a child or young person, you should not regard refusal of consent as necessarily precluding the sharing of confidential information.

3.10 A public interest can arise in a wide range of circumstances, for example, to protect children or other people from harm, to promote the welfare of children or to prevent crime and disorder.

Which appears to translate as: “ask for consent, but don’t worry if the answer is no because there’s probably a broad, discretionary power that you can use as an override”.

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6 Responses to Just do it anyway

  1. Pete Darby says:

    Hmm, have they also added: not that it will make any difference who you share your data with, the departments are underfunded, understaffed and ineffective anyway, even if your dept has beent he subject of a national review following the death of a child:

  2. rainmanlite says:

    If I honestly believed that a criminal offence was being committed or a child was at immediate risk of coming to harm, the Data Protection Act would not be very high on my list of concerns, nor do I believe it should be. A lot of abuse victims try to hide it, and if it comes to a choice between violating somebody’s privacy and trust and putting them at risk of harm, there’s no choice at all.

  3. archrights says:

    @rainmanlite: with respect, I think you’ve misunderstood the situation. Where a child is at risk of harm, or may commit a serious crime against another person, then there is already exemption from the DPA. Practitioners always have, quite rightly, shared information in these circumstances.

    What we’re talking about is sharing data about a child’s general welfare *needs* – a new wheelchair, speech therapy, extra reading tuition – and that should not allow a data-free-for-all, any more than it would for an adult.

    Conflating ‘need’ with ‘abuse’ is also highly dangerous because it tends to obscure the vanishingly small number of children in immediate danger.

  4. rainmanlite says:

    I misunderstood your point; my apologies.

  5. archrights says:

    I thought perhaps you had – my own fault for not making what I meant clearer! OTOH it’s an interesting demonstration of how effectively the govt tactic of talking about ‘concerns’ and ‘risks’ confuses the situation. It would be reasonable to assume they mean concern about abuse, or at risk of harm – but in fact they’ve quietly broadened the definitions to mean ‘concern’ that a child isn’t progressing towards targets – or is ‘at risk’ of failing to meet them.

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